Staff Editorial: Women misrepresented in contraception debate

On Feb. 16, a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing was held to address the Obama administration's new legislation on contraception and whether it infringes on freedom of religion or conscience. With a majority male panel and committee, the hearing failed to represent the female population affected by this particular health care and that will endure the consequences of any legislation. 

The contraceptive rule would require faith-based employers to provide contraception health coverage. In a preview statement, Rep. Darrell Issa (R, Ca.), the committee's chairman, explained that the question that the hearing addressed was whether the new rule is a violation of religious freedom and whether institutions that find the legislation "morally objectionable" will be protected.

Although the intent of the hearing was relevant, the organization brings the committee's true objective into question. Of the 10 panel members who testified at the hearing, only two were women and neither was in support of the rule. It seems more likely that the committee was trying to rally opposition to the proposed legislation rather than fairly answer the question.

Three democrats walked out of the hearing after Issa refused to let Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student, testify. Issa stated at the hearing that although Fluke seemed "energetic over this issue," she was "not appropriate or qualified."

Issa's statement reflects everything that's wrong with the GOP opposition to the rule. By just being a woman, Fluke should have been qualified to testify. Women will be affected by the legislation and they're completely underrepresented. 

The cost of birth control is continually rising and conservatives are seemingly unaware. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said birth control costs "just a few dollars," and Rep. Tom Price (R, Ga.) argued that no woman has ever been denied birth control because she couldn't afford it.

In response to the backlash, created a calculator for women to determine how much money they can expect to spend on birth control throughout their estimated child-bearing years. For a 22-year-old woman taking the birth control pill until she's 51, the total cost without insurance is $54,715. With insurance, the cost would be $9,722. 

Additionally, the rule's opponents don't seem to have considered the other uses of birth control. The pill is prescribed for dozens of uses other than contraception, including health issues like polycystic ovary syndrome. Not every case will put faith-based employers in a morally uncomfortable position. 

The bottom line is that this entire issue has been severely mishandled by the GOP and religious opponents of contraceptive coverage in health care plans. Do religious institutions have a freedom to hold their religious beliefs? Yes. But they do not have a right to direct policy with those beliefs when said policies would cause harm to any segment of the population.