01:20 - Source: CNN
Fireworks at House contraception hearing

Story highlights

At hearing on religious freedom and women's health, no females were on panel

Hearing is after controversy about Obama administration contraception policy

Rep. Maloney: "When I look at this panel, I don't see one single woman ... "

Washington CNN —  

A pair of female Democratic lawmakers had a simple question Thursday about a controversial hearing on Capitol Hill.

“What I want to know is: Where are the women?” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said as she began her remarks at the top of hearing titled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”

Directing her question at Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Maloney was referring to the fact that the first panel of five witnesses at the hearing did not include a woman, even though the discussion touched on the recent controversy over an Obama administration regulation requiring health insurance coverage for contraception.

“When I look at this panel, I don’t see one single woman representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic, preventative health care services, including family planning,” Maloney continued. Then she repeated: “Where are the women?”

Maloney went on to tell Issa that she was “deeply disturbed” that he had rejected a request by the Democrats on the committee to have Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown University Law School, testify at Thursday’s hearing. Maloney and the other Democrats had hoped to have Fluke testify about a classmate who ended up losing an ovary after she could no longer afford the oral contraceptives prescribed by her doctor to treat ovarian cysts. The medications were not covered by the classmate’s student health insurance, according to Maloney.

Maloney was soon backed up by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who pointed out that Issa had not responded to Maloney’s query about Fluke testifying.

Reacting to Holmes Norton, Issa said that the Democrats had submitted their witnesses later than required by committee rules and had sought permission to have more witnesses testify than the rules allow.

Issa also explained why he had decided that Fluke was not qualified to testify and said that, in lieu of Fluke participating in the hearing, he had instructed his staff to post a link to a 45-minute news conference Fluke had previously participated in “so that the public can see her opinion.” Democrats also later sent out a copy of her prepared remarks.

After more prodding from Maloney, Issa turned to the heart of the dispute between himself and the Democrats on the committee.

“We are not having a hearing on the policies or the details related to the single issue of Obamacare and this particular mandate,” he said, “This hearing is about religious freedom.”

In a later exchange, Holmes Norton appeared to lose her cool as she sought to challenge Issa’s reliance on the committee’s rules to justify excluding Fluke. But the hearing continued with five men in the first panel who represented different faiths testifying and taking questions from lawmakers. Two other women invited by the Republicans, Dr. Laura Champion and Allison Dabbs Garrett, later testified during a second panel.

In a news conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed Issa’s decision not to allow Fluke to testify.

“That’s a good question for the whole debate,” the leading Democrat said, “Where are the women?”

“Imagine they’re having a panel on women’s health,” Pelosi also said, disagreeing with Issa’s approach to the insurance coverage controversy, “and they don’t have any women on that panel.”