By Ernest A. Canning on 3/5/2012, 4:16pm PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

"When you let university administrators or other employers rather than women and their doctors dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose are not, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body." - Georgetown Univ. Law Student, Sandra Fluke

One unfortunate aspect of the firestorm surrounding Rush Limbaugh's profoundly uninformed, deceptive and misogynistic vitriol and calls for accountability for the Rightwing radio blowhard, is that it has completely overshadowed the substance of Fluke's testimony on the importance of access to prescription contraceptives to women's health.

The Limbaugh firestorm has also overshadowed the fact that the American Taliban (aka the elected Tea Party House Republicans) prevented Fluke from testifying at a House Oversight Committee hearing, framed by the Republican majority as a hearing on "religious freedom", because, as the Washington Post described, "she was not a member of the clergy."

Indeed, while much is made of the fact that the first panel at the 2/16/12 House Oversight Committee examining an issue vital to women's health was all-male, few have taken note that it was also all-clergy. In opening the hearing, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) announced: "Today, the committee will hear testimony from leaders of different faiths."

Not only did the right-wing GOP House leaders fail to so much as recognize Fluke's right to be heard, but, according to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (see video embedded in above-linked Washington Post article), they also refused to permit House Democrats to use the House Recording Studio as part of an effort to try and prevent the public from seeing and hearing Fluke's testimony at all. Instead, Pelosi and the Democrats of the Democratic Steering Committee were forced to hold a separate, unofficial "forum", in order to hear Fluke's testimony.

The video of Fluke's opening statement, the testimony that Republicans sought to prevent from being heard at all, is now posted below.

But it is the larger, arguably more disturbing constitutional ramifications of the actions of House Republicans that we'd like to take a moment to highlight on, as they have been almost entirely overlooked in this unnecessary brouhaha...

Disregarding the U.S. Constitution

"I keep hearing political candidates and pundits refer to religious folks as 'people of faith,'" Brent Meeker wrote in a 3/4/12 letter to the editor of Los Angeles Times. "So I suggest that we atheists and agnostics be referred to as 'people of evidence.'"

The First Amendment provides that Congress "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," which, Thomas Jefferson wrote, was intended to build "a wall of separation of church and state."

Ironically, the House Oversight Committee, chaired by Darrell Issa (R-CA), both gave recognition to and then seem to have immediately violated that separation in framing a hearing on a question vital to women's health as: "Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"

Implicit in the Committee's framing is the assumption that freedom to worship includes the right of religious employers and institutions to inject their religious beliefs into the personal medical decisions of female employees and students. That interference is especially troubling in cases like the one at Georgetown, where, Fluke testified, the university saw fit to intervene in such medical decisions even though that interference was opposed by 94% of students and even though it is the students themselves who pay for their own health insurance coverage, "completely unsubsidized by the university."

The combination of the assumption that one person's freedom to worship includes the right of one individual to inject his or her religious belief into the personal medical decisions of another, along with the House GOP's determination that only members of the clergy should be heard on the matter, raises a disturbing question concerning the separation of church and state and an "establishment" of religion as a basis for legislative decision-making.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides that there shall be "no religious test...required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While appearing as a witness before Congress is not equal to holding "office," it is certainly a form of "public trust." Yet, while the House GOP chose to insult women in this country by permitting an all-male panel to testify on a topic of keen interest to women, their "theologians only" policy is arguably as offensive to Constitutional conservatives.

In allowing only members of the clergy to offer testimony on mandating private insurers to cover women's health issues, and whether such a mandate steps on issues of separation between church and state, Republicans may well have crossed a boundary made impermissible by both the First Amendment and Article VI of the Constitution by imposing a religious test (clergy membership) as a qualification to engage in the public trust of appearing as a Congressional witness. At the very least, that test appears to have smashed through the wall of separation of church and state.

To make matters worse, by attempting to prevent press coverage of Fluke's testimony by depriving the minority party access to the House Recording Studio, the House GOP violated the First Amendment right of every U.S. citizen to be fully informed of the factual issues surrounding insurance coverage for contraceptives, so that citizens can make an informed decision as to whether those who supported the recently failed Blunt amendment (which would would have outlawed such a mandate) should be re-elected or voted out of office.

No relationship between cost for contraceptives and frequency of intercourse

As the content of Limbaugh's misogynistic vitriol has received extensive coverage from both the MSM and alternative media, there is no need to recount them here. However, it may be useful to dispel some misconceptions created by Limbaugh's statement that Fluke "was having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

Setting aside the fact that Fluke did not utter one word about her personal sex life, Limbaugh's remark reflects a profound ignorance that would have been dispelled had the House Oversight Committee called medical experts to address an issue of women's health that is, by no means, limited to "freedom of religion."

The cost of contraceptives has absolutely nothing to do with the frequency of intercourse. Ordinarily, a patient obtains a package of 28 oral contraceptive pills, which are to be taken daily. Even if she anticipates only having intercourse on a single occasion over the span of one month, a patient cannot save money by holding off until that day to take one. A failure to abide by a physician's prescribed daily dose can produce "menstrual bleeding at irregular intervals, and the likelihood of pregnancy increases."

Oral contraceptives used for more than pregnancy prevention

A particularly troubling feature that arises from framing an issue that so profoundly impacts women's health as solely a question of religious freedom and then calling only clergy as witnesses --- as opposed to physicians and medical experts --- is that elected Congressional representatives may inject themselves into the matter without first acquiring an understanding of the health implications of their legislative decisions.

Pregnancy prevention provides only one of multiple medical reasons why contraceptives are prescribed. Other therapeutic options include "reduction in dysmenorrhea [menstrual pain] and menorrhagia [abnormally heavy and prolonged menstrual periods], iron-deficiency anemia, ectopic pregnancy, and PID [Pelvic Inflammatory Disease]...Oral contraceptives provide lasting reduction in the risk of two serious gynecologic malignancies --- ovarian and endometrial cancer."

This issue was central to Fluke's academic Congressional presentation. She provided the ideal example --- a 32-year old female Georgetown law student whose doctor prescribed oral contraceptives to prevent the development of a polycystic ovary.

Although Georgetown makes an exception for denial of coverage if oral contraceptives are provided for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy prevention, they refused to accept the reason in this case --- this despite the fact that the likelihood of pregnancy was minimized by the fact that the student was gay. The student developed an acute onset of severe pain and received an emergency hysterectomy because of a polycystic ovary --- hence Fluke's statement, quoted at this top of this article, about women's health taking a backseat to bureaucratic policy.

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Video containing entirety of Sandra Fluke's opening statement follows...

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.

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