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Democrats seek to capitalize on contraception controversy

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University shakes hands with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Rep. Elijah Cummings looks on. Alex Wong

House Democrats on Thursday sought to capitalize on the controversy surrounding the government's role in providing contraception to women, holding a high-profile discussion on the matter and asking supporters for money as soon as the talk was over.

Led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats held a pretend hearing while Congress is not in session to listen to the views of a third-year Georgetown Law student and activist who was not allowed to attend a Republican run hearing on the matter last week.

Sandra Fluke, who leads a reproductive rights group at the university, was barred from testifying at the February 16 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee because the Republicans said she was unqualified. Instead, the panel heard from five men, all of whom are opposed to insurance companies providing coverage for contraception. A secondary session of five panelists did include two women.

Immediately after the conclusion of Thursday's fake hearing, Pelosi sent an email to supporters from the party's campaign arm seeking financial assistance ahead of an upcoming filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission.

"The Republican War on Women must come to an end," Pelosi wrote, "help us raise $1 million by Wednesday's deadline to send an overwhelming message that we will not stand for the Republicans' anti-woman agenda."

Rep. Elijah Cummings said holding a hearing on contraception without any women would be like holding a hearing on prostate cancer without any men--he would not take it seriously.

Fluke, the only witness at Thursday's session, objected to characterizations that she is not qualified to speak before lawmakers on the matter.

"I'm an American woman who uses contraception, so let's start right there. That makes me qualified to talk to my elected officials about my health care needs," she said.

Specifically, she said contraception can cost a woman over $3,000 dollars, which she pointed out is about the same amount of money a law student could expect to earn over the course of a summer.

And she said contraception is not just used for birth control, but also for other health issues including the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome and even seizures.

No Republicans attended the mock hearing.