Norton Walks Out of Contraception Hearing After Female Witness Barred

First panel of witnesses all male

District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton walked out of House committee hearing today on contraception because the chairman rejected a request to let a female student testify.

"It's a total rump, one-sided hearing," Norton told MSNBC shortly after leaving.

The Thursday hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, featured a panel of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish religious leaders, invited to discuss President Obama's policies on access to birth control and religious affiliated institutions.

Committee Chairman Darryl Issa, (R-CA), descibed the purpose of the hearing in a preview statement: "This hearing is about basic question of religious freedom, and whether or not protection will be afforded to religious institutions who wish to follow their conscience in refusing to pay for products they find morally objectionable."

Conservatives and some religious leaders are opposed to a policy advanced by the administration that employers be required to provide access to birth control, saying that such a mandate would cause some employers, like institutions with religious affiliations, to compromise their beliefs.

Notably absent from the first panel of speakers, however, was a female witness.

"Where are the women," asked Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), also a member of the committee.  "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 preventive health care services."

Two females were listed on the witness list in the hearing's second panel, which would be heard later in the day.

Norton told MSNBC that when Democrats saw the male-dominated panel, they petitioned Rep. Issa to admit a female law student from Georgetown in place of another witness.  Issa denied the request to let the student, Sandra Fluke, testify, saying she was "not found to be appropriate or qualified" to talk about religious liberty.

Norton told MSNBC the decision to bar a woman from testifying on contraceptive policy gave the hearing "the appearance of an autocratic rump hearing, and I hardly thought it deserved my presence."

Contact Us