Meet Sandra Fluke: The woman you didn’t hear at Congress’ contraceptives hearing

at 02:16 PM ET, 02/16/2012


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held a hearing Thursday on the health reform law’s mandated coverage of contraceptives. (Stephen Morton - BLOOMBERG)
Congress held a lengthy hearing Thursday morning on the health reform law’s mandated coverage of contraceptives, probing whether the provision violates religious liberties.

The hearing has gotten a lot of attention not necessarily for what happened there, but what didn’t. Namely, no one testified in favor of the contraceptives mandate. Moreover, no women participated in the first, three-hour panel (two women did testify against the provision in the second panel.)

The Democrats did, however, invite one woman to speak: Sandra Fluke, a third-year student at Georgetown Law and past president of the school’s Students for Reproductive Justice group. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chaired the hearing, said the minority party had submitted her name too late to be considered (Democrats contest this). I caught her outside the hearing room, and we spoke about what she would have told the committee.

Fluke came to Georgetown University interested in contraceptive coverage: She researched the Jesuit college’s health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included. “I decided I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care,” says Fluke, who has spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue. The issue got the university president’s office last spring, where Georgetown declined to change its policy.

Fluke says she would have used the hearing to talk about the students at Georgetown that don’t have birth control covered, and what that’s meant for them. “I wanted to be able to share their stories,” she says. “My testimony would have been about women who have been affected by their policy, who have medical needs and have suffered dire consequences.. . .The committee did not get to hear real stories I had to share, about actual women who have been dramatically affected by this policy.”

I asked Fluke what she’s learned about reproductive health politics over the past few months, as the nation has debated the role of contraceptives coverage in health reform. “Sadly, I think what I have learned is how willing some members of our government are to play political football with women’s health,” she says. “That has been heartbreaking to watch.

Fluke plans to continue working on the issue to ensure that the health reform regulations do eventually require Georgetown University to provide birth control to its students. She’s keeping an eye both on the accommodations the White House rolled out last month, as well as a separate regulation on student health plans now being reviewed by the Office of Budget and Management. That’s the regulation that will determine whether the no-copay birth control provisions also apply to student health plans.

Fluke stayed for the first few moments of the hearing, long enough to hear a representative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops speak, before walking out in protest with the Democratic women who sit on the committee.

Related: An interview with William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, who testified this morning against the contraceptives mandate.

 
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