The Panel Congress Really Needs to Hear From


Cross-posted with permission from Amplify Your Voice.

See all our coverage of the 2012 Contraceptive Mandate here.

For all our coverage of the 2012 House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Hearing, click here.

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced that the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee would host a hearing on “Women’s Health.” According to the announcement:

The sole witness at the hearing will be Ms. Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, who was blocked from testifying at a recent Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing by Chairman Darrell Issa . Instead, Chairman Issa brought forward a panel of all men to testify on this topic.

While great to give Sandra a space to testify (the story she shares is incredibly compelling-you can click here to listen to what she would have said last week at the Oversight hearing), I must admit that my initial reaction was disappointment in the fact that Sandra is the only person sharing testimony.

Why? Because there are many more perspectives Congress needs to hear from on the important topic of contraceptive access…especially when it comes to contraceptive access for women who use birth control to (get ready for it) prevent unintended pregnancy.

Here is a quick list of folks I’d love to see testifying before Congress on this important issue as well as a little background to show why their voices are so important (and why they’re so great).

Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute. Quoted from their own website, “Founded in 2001, the Religious Institute is a multi-faith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. The Religious Institute has emerged as the national leadership organization working at the intersection of sexuality and religion.”

Dr. Renee Jenkins, Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Child Health at Howard University. Dr. Jenkins is an active member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Chair of the Pediatric Section of the National Medical Association, member of the Institute of Medicine and serves on the Board on Children, Youth and Families of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sister Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the organization who previously objected to the initial contraceptive rule from the Obama Administration but later came out in support of the compromise.

The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions…The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed. We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.

Lizzie Jekanowski & Jessika Parry, Co-Presidents of Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), “a student group whose mission is to fight for the health education and resources we need and deserve.” In 2009, BCSSH organized a student referendum where with one of the largest voter turnouts, almost 90% of students voted to expand sexual health services on campus-including prescriptions for birth control from their student health center.

Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, and organization that “strive[s] to be an expression of Catholicism as it is lived by ordinary people. We are part of the great majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood. We are part of the great majority who believes that Catholic teachings on conscience mean that every individual must follow his or her own conscience — and respect others’ right to do the same.”

Kim (last name withheld for privacy reasons) or other young women who benefited from the Affordable Care Act’s provision allowing young people to stay on their parent’s health insurance. While incredibly helpful when Kim was searching for a job after graduating from college, Kim’s Mom worked at a religious-affiliated hospital and therefore contraception was not covered in her health plan. Kim had to pay out-of-pocket.

Rev. Carlton Veazey, former President of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Rev. Veazey is a “a minister of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Reverend Veazey is founder of the Coalition’s celebrated National Black Church Initiative, which is breaking the silence in African American churches about sex and sexuality. His long and distinguished career in the ministry and public service and his commitment to social justice brought him to the presidency of the coalition of religious groups from 15 denominations and faith traditions.”

Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke who authored the Guttmacher Institute report “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.” In this report the authors discuss actual (instead of what “leaders” push) contraceptive usage of women (married and un-married) of various faiths.

April Flores, a student leader with the Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter at the University of Texas at Brownsville. April is a teen mom and uses her personal story to advocate for young people’s sexual health and rights in her community. She participated in (along with young people across the country) a Valentine’s Day Action showing support for contraceptive access in a district represented by Rep. Farenthold, the Member of Congress who compared the Administration’s rule on contraception to smoking bans at the Oversight hearing.

And of course Sandra Fluke. The issue of using birth control for medical reasons is an important one that must also be shared. We as a movement just have to be cautious that this is not the only perspective we speak about, even if it makes people feel less awkward. At the end of the day, women (married and un-married) do have sex and don’t always want to conceive as a result of it!

Contraceptive access is an important issue. One that the majority of Americans support. One that I as a Millennial never thought I’d have to be fighting for. I need Congress to take this as serious as the young women I work with.

So while this is my quick take at a dream hearing, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts. Who else do you think Congress needs to hear from?

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  • johann7

    As the founder and operator of Scarleteen.com, an organization that (in part) addresses the failure of schools, parents, and churches to teach children and teens accurate and comprehensive information about sexuality and reproductive health (on a shoestring budget, at that), Heather can speak directly to the ways in which contraceptive access (or the lack thereof) impacts teens and young adults. She deals with the consequences of our public policies related to sexuality and sexual health on a daily basis.

  • arik1983

    Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of American United for Separation of Church and State, writes in a Bellingham Herald opinion piece that, “According to the right, big, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals have some sort of ‘corporate conscience‘ that must be protected — even if it tramples an individual’s rights.” He adds that “conservatives are now arguing that this so-called ‘right’ to tailor health care to religious demands must be extended to private employers.” Under such a system, if a “boss becomes a fundamentalist Christian and decides that childhood vaccines demonstrate a lack of faith in God, he can deny coverage to all of his workers.”

    Lynn argues, “This is not ‘religious freedom,’ It is control of others.” He adds, “The government has no obligation to assist an employer [in] impos[ing] his religious beliefs on others” (Lynn, Bellingham Herald, 2/23).

     

    Side Note:

    I agree w/Rev. Lynn– the Constitution explicity states that Church & State must be separate, and these RELIGIOUS CORPORATIONS, and I do stress Religious Corporations (NOT non-profit organizations), who have more $$ than their employees to weild power & influencence the very same legislatures who are in charge of making the final decisions for ALL of America.  These legislatures come from various religions, and “only” have power to write laws for the American public– they are NOT (normally) authorized to write laws for religious tenets, like the Catholic Bishops do!  So essentially, it’s like Catholic Bishops writing American legislation & business labor & healthcare laws without a middleman involved. I though Catholics though GREED is one of 7 sins?!

     

    These Religious Corporations recieve tax payer $$, therefore, they MUST submit to the labor laws and regulations that ALL American corporations must comply with in order to recieve $$ from the federal government.  There would be complete & utter kaos if the government made specific laws for each diff. denomination & religious organization!  The federal gov’t would have to INCREASE in size just to make sure that each diff. religious corporation was using the federal $$ in compliance w/the new extremely specific law for their denomination.  That’s insane! I thought these people w anted SMALLER government!

     

    Furthermore, the Republicans who argue that Obama is inserting himself into writing healthcare laws (which the gov’t is allowed to & DOES do, even b4 Obama was born) & “forcing” people to believe what he does (which, I have to add, no one is actually forced to prescribe or take birtch control pills, under Obama’s mandate), THEY are the ones passing MASSIVE amounts of HEALTHCARE RESTRICTIONS that go MUCH, MUCH further into the dictates of healthcare than Obama’s regulation!  Such as the TRAP laws in Virginia, which require the JANITOR CLOSETS be a certain size, as well as a plethora of other structural regulations JUST for abortion clinics– NO OTHER HEALTH CARE offices, and of course, the more widely known “Trans-Vaginal Ultrasound” laws of VA, and more already in place (TX) or being introduced by Republicans around the country, that actually do FORCE the gov’ts will & religious beliefs onto the DOCTORS as well as the people unlike Obama’s simple birth control availability mandate!  In fact, the “Trans-Vaginal” (or as I like to call it, State-Mandated Rape laws, since it actually is sexual object penetration without consent, such as in VA’s state law, or more broadly considered rape under the FBI’s new statute), law being introced in PA actually madates that the doctors point the ultrasound monitor @ the woman! However, the PA law does say that the “woman can avert her eyes if she wants,” but still must be penetrated by the transvaginal probe without consent.  Now if THAT is gov’t overreach and intrustion into the healthcare system, I don’t know what is!

     

    Back to the contraception mandate, if the gov’t deems that Religious Corporations “conscience” (such as Catholic corporations in this instance), is more important than actual human beings’ individual, personal religious liberties, the Catholic can & will continue to make $$ to use to further bully the gov’t and place undue brudens on the public.  Eventually, if they want, they could take over/buy out ALL hospitals & universities with enough $$, and make sure that women are held at lower levels than men in all aspects of society, and that their version of religion is the ONLY one!  That will not be taken lightly in America– & how can people fight back if Catholics have all the $$ AND the legislatures in their pockets?  I thought GREED was a sin, but apparently NOT, as long as it’s used to push your agenda “in the name of G-d” aka: Man.

     

    Finally, if the gov’t does make this exception for Catholics, it will open the floodgates and they will have to do the same for ALL religions in all aspects of secualr business that relates to a certain religion’s moral beliefs, and that just CANNOT logically and effectively work in a society that is comprised of ALL sorts of religions and world views.  Guess what?  Contraception is NOT a religious belief (& certainly wasn’t aroound when the Bible was written)– it is used by women of ALL religions; it is a human health benefit, just like other medicines.  Therefore, it is NOT an infringement of religious liberty, but and ADVANCEMENT of gender equality & gender imabalance in health care costs, which only helps boosts the economy by saving women $$ to spend on other things. That’s why it is ONLY a SECULAR rule that Obama put in place (even b4 the “compromise”), for the decency and good of the American population: a rule that strengthens the economy AND the American ideals of freedom and equality for ALL!