Republican Congressman Darrell Issa's hearing last week had a lengthy name that served to underscore its absurdity: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" That title had 20 more words than Congressman Issa allowed any woman to speak during the first panel of the hearing.
He staged a sound-and-fury fest over a contraceptive coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act, one which the Right suddenly found to be blasphemous. The picture of an all-male panel testifying on women's reproductive rights invited its own ridicule. But the silencing of Sandra Fluke was no laughing matter. Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown and past president of that university's Law Students for Reproductive Justice group, had been invited by Democrats to speak -- but Congressman Issa kept her from testifying over a disputed technicality.
One week later, Fluke testified before an informal hearing in front of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats. Republicans kept off live teevee (but thanks to the power of the Internets, can now be seen above in full, and read here). She called attention not only to the affordability issue confronting those at Georgetown, a Jesuit institution, but to the medical necessity confronting some who use birth control. Judging by the Republican legislation seeking to revoke the birth-control rule, these were necessary points to make.
Before Fluke's testimony, Salon's Irin Carmon sought to debunk conservative untruths about contraception, including the ones uttered in Wednesday's Republican debate. Feminist author Jessica Valenti wrote in The Nation that this is all part of a larger, longer war on women:
...we need to ensure that Republicans are held accountable and don’t get to brush these comments and actions off as mistakes or misunderstandings. Because they’re not simple gaffes, they’re a crystal clear window into the future that the GOP wants for women.
The opponents of birth control coverage are playing a long game. As they ransack family planning funding and prop up religious organizations, they are transforming the way information — and misinformation — about abortion and birth control is passed on to the public. Their efforts are enabled by narratives about religious persecution, demanding, in effect, to create a religious alternative to public health policy based in medicine and science. The Constitution doesn’t require or even envision that. Democrats and their pro-choice allies need to stake out their own long game.