When Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke was denied the opportunity to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week, outraged Democrats and activists cried that a woman’s voice has been silenced on an issue that pertains to women’s health. But the conversation is far from over.
Silence was not a symptom of a Wednesday evening panel discussion-turned-activist planning meeting, where Fluke and dozens of other women began to devise plans to make their voices heard in the contraception conversation.
Democrats on the House oversight panel had hoped they could get Fluke to testify at a hearing led by the committee’s Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., last week addressing the controversial rule from the Obama administration requiring all employers, including religious-affiliated institutions, to offer health insurance plans that cover birth control free of cost to women.
Issa rejected the request to have Fluke on the first panel of the day, which otherwise included only men. Issa said that Fluke was not qualified to testify and that the hearing was about religious freedom and not women. The result of this actually ended up being a political win for the Democrats. Outraged at this setup, activists and others took to social media, spreading the word about Fluke’s denial.
“For the Democrats—it’s like … 'ice the champagne',” Washington Post Style section writer Ann Gerhart said at a panel discussion organized by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) on Wednesday evening.
At the event, Fluke described how tough it was for her to sit behind the first witness during the hearing, listening to seven and a half minutes of a hypothetical story knowing that she had a real story to share with the lawmakers. “It was disappointing,” Fluke told a room filled with women and a few men.
But the panel discussion quickly turned to activism.
Panelists and audience members began discussing how to “take the bull by the horns” and keep this conversation going, as AAUW’s top public policy adviser Lisa Maatz put it. Ideas thrown around included leveraging social media and local activism on these issues and gathering personal stories from women who would be affected by these policies.
“The bishops do not represent the Catholic opinion on most of these issues. They just don’t,” Sara Hutchinson, a representative from Catholics for Choice, told National Journal. “I don’t think this conversation’s over by a long shot. And I don’t think it’s going to be over Nov. 7,” she added.
Fluke said that she hopes that the conversation won’t be limited to just contraception and this particular issue. “I’m not sure I want this particular conversation to keep going,” she said. “We need to broaden the conversation to women’s health.”
Despite the political firestorm that erupted last week, Fluke said that she doesn’t personally feel like a political football in all of this, but noted that women’s health, in some ways, has become that.
“Women have not yet been heard in the halls of government,” she said. “It’s great that the message is getting out there, but there is something really important about your elected officials hearing your point of view."
Fluke will be testifying on Thursday at a hearing organized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in reaction to last week’s hearing. She plans to share anecdotes about women who need contraception for various health reasons. Though she will go forward with much of her testimony from last week, Fluke said that she now has many more stories to talk about that were shared with her after she was unable to testify.
“Unfortunately, it really hasn’t been heard yet,” she told National Journal.