When Congress acts like the bishops

When I saw the photo of a hearing Thursday before the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Darrell's Issa (R-Calif.), I was stunned and shocked. The subject dealt directly with women's health, and there were five men testifying. All clergy and no women!

Worse than that, women members of Congress asked for a woman to testify, and they were refused.

All I could think was this: These congressional Republicans have been listening for too long to the Catholic bishops. For all the world, Darrell Issa could have been wearing a miter.

Then, I thought wistfully to myself, these congresswomen are all Catholics now! They suddenly know what it feels like to be part of an institution that does not value gender equality or women's voices, even when the issues relate directly to women. Welcome to my world.

When Democratic women asked for a woman to be included, Issa said the hearing was about religious liberty, not women's health.

Baloney! In this case, the two issues are intertwined.

The committee was dealing with this seemingly never-ending controversy about a new requirement, under the health care reform law, that most employers cover contraception in their health care plans. The question of exemptions for religious institutions that have some moral objection to covering contraception was dealt with last week when President Barack Obama broadened the religious exemption and shifted the cost burden to insurance companies, preserving women's access to contraception.

The Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities -- the major institutions affected -- voiced their satisfaction with the change, but the Republicans in Congress are still not happy. For some strange reason, they apparently think they can gain politically by pushing this further. They want to eliminate the requirement to cover contraception altogether.

Why these guys think this is politically advantageous is beyond me. Catholics -- and the rest of the population -- use contraception commonly, without moral qualms. If women think their access to contraception is in danger in any way with a Republican victory, Republicans will lose.

Read the polls, fellas. This is the 21st century, not the 13th.

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