Where ARE the Women?


The image of five religious male officials testifying on women’s health perfectly frames the assault on women’s health.  It is men dictating to women and deciding for them.  It is a particular religious view of conception imposing itself on women’s health.  These males – priests, pastors and a rabbi – were the “experts” chosen by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chair of the House Oversight Committee hearing titled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State.  Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”  Were these men constitutional scholars who could debate if any first amendment issues were actually involved?  Were they physicians who deal with women’s health?  Were these men able to give birth themselves?  After listening to them, there is no clear answer on why they were called to testify, if not to impose a narrow religious view on the nation.

One of the panel of experts chose to explore the topic by comparing women’s rights to having contraceptives covered by her employer-based health insurance plan to a “Parable of a Jewish Deli.”  The eating of pork became a metaphor for contraceptive coverage.  In this tale, the government mandated that all restaurants serve pork with a religious exemption for a kosher caterer associated with a synagogue.  The story wove through the views of Orthodox and non-Orthodox views of eating pork and continued until it triumphantly declared it is absurd for the state to use its coercive power to make someone buy and eat a ham sandwich when it is a free option a few doors down.  According to this “expert,” women’s health is not chopped liver but a ham on rye!

The other testimonies were no more enlightening.  But there was someone in the room who had come prepared to testify but was not considered as knowledgeable as these men.  The young woman, Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, is a female and is past president of the school’s Students for Reproductive Justice group.  She has lobbied the administration at Georgetown for three years to include birth control in its student health plans.  While her testimony was not heard at the hearing, she spoke out on The Ed Show on MSNBC.

Fluke’s testimony was full of facts about the impact of contraceptives on the health of women.  It showed how contraceptives are important for birth control as well as health issues that require the use of hormonal treatments.  She cited an example of a 32-year old woman who will now face life-long complications and possibly the inability to have children because of the refusal of medication from the Georgetown health clinic.  Although she had a doctor’s diagnosis and a prescription, she could not obtain the medication that would treat her condition because it was a contraceptive.  It is hard to reconcile this with a religion and a movement that claims to be pro-life.  Again and again, it is only when a fetus is concerned that it is considered a life issue.

The debate on when life begins is spurious.  The real debate is when men will view women as other than chattel, when will they view women as equals, as intelligent human beings who can make their own health and well-being decisions.  It is not up to these five religious men, the chair of an oversight committee with his own political agenda or a group of bishops to make any decisions about a woman’s health.  It is not up to them to dictate their religious beliefs on a woman.  These so-called “experts” will allow, as a matter of religious liberty, a woman to be denied paid coverage for polycystic ovarian disease while a man has unfettered access to erectile dysfunction drugs?  One is a medical condition which may eventually destroy her health, while the other is a matter of male sexual gratification or male ego.  This is outrageous, irrational and utterly a matter of male domination.

And where are the women?  Women were not allowed to testify about their own health.  They are under-represented in Congress.  They were largely ignored in the media before President Obama issued his accommodation. 

Where are the women’s voices?  Where is the outrage at laws that allow women’s bodies to be penetrated against their will, as in Virginia’s proposed mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound law in which neither women nor their doctors may refuse the procedure if a woman is seeking an abortion?  Where is the outcry as more and more states require longer and longer waiting periods before obtaining a legal abortion?  Where is the outcry as more and more states seriously consider “personhood” legislation that could outlaw contraception and invitro-fertilization?  Where are they?  If women do not write, email, call, and support candidates and organizations who support them, do not exercise the rights we have fought so long for, women will find that they are back in the kitchens with their ancestors, with no rights at all.

Gail Yamner

President, Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (JACPAC)

originally posted on JACBlog!

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