Cranking it up: Pelosi leading contraception war charge

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WASHINGTON–Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Patty Murray, Barbara Boxer and Kirsten Gillibrand spoke out loudly last week after a House hearing on contraception–presided over by a male GOP chairman– featured an all-male lineup on its first panel.

“We can’t lose sight that this is, at the most fundamental level, a debate about women’s preventative health,” New Hampshire’s Shaheen said from the Senate floor, followed by the other women. “Women deserve a voice in this debate, because after all, in the end this is about our health and it is about a health care decision that is between women, their families, their doctors and their own faith,” she said.

There’s more protests coming with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday leading the latest charge.

Pelosi announced that Democrats will hold a hearing Thursday featuring the woman, Sandra Fluke, a law student, who was not allowed to be part of that panel.

Some Republicans–including the presidential candidates– are trying to frame getting contraception for women covered through the new Obama health care law as an issue of religious liberty.

But the reality is–as women who use birth control know–there is a lot more to the story.

The contraception wars are heating up, as something I thought was a long settled issue becomes part of the presidential campaign. Fanning the flames: last week Rick Santorum SuperPac fund-raising patron Foster Friess was preaching abstinence, or, as he said women to avoid pregnancy need to “put aspirin between their knees.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) titled a hearing last week “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” The first panel he called was comprised of religious leaders and academics from religious-affiliated universities.

Issa et al bought themselves some grief by not realizing the messaging, optics and substance blunder of holding a hearing–no matter the title–related to contraception without women playing a prominent role.

As Pelosi said Friday, “Imagine having a panel on women’s health, and they don’t have any women on the panel. Duh. What is it that men don’t understand about women’s health and how central the issue of family planning is to that, not just if you’re having families, but if you need those kinds of prescription drugs for your general health, which was the testimony they would have heard this morning if they had allowed a woman on the panel.

“I think the fact that they did not allow a woman on the panel is symbolic of the whole debate, as to who is making these decisions about women’s health and who should be covered.”

Issa called the hearing as a result of new coverage put in place as a result of the Obama health care law. Starting in August, women in the U.S. will get free birth control from their health insurance.

The exceptions are women who work for a religious organization–such as the Catholic Church–allowed to opt out of mandatory coverage.

President Obama earlier this month had to backtrack –and broaden the new coverage regulation in order to allow other kinds of religious employers–such as a hospital or non-profit–to not provide the coverage. In the compromise–an accounting device–those women workers still get the free coverage–directly through their health insurance carriers.

Said Murray, from the Senate floor, the revived controversy “was like stepping into a time machine and going back fifty years.”

Or about the era of Mad Men.

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