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Female Senators Blast Contraception Hearing Featuring All Male Religious, Political Figures

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) -- There were protests on Capitol Hill on Friday from female lawmakers about the all-male panel of witnesses called to testify about what they believe is the Obama administration's violation of religious freedom.

The lawmakers said it's a women's rights issue, reports CBS 2's Marcia Kramer.

They didn't know that when they came to Capitol Hill to express concerns about religious freedom it would be a picture worth thousands and thousands of words.

"Where are the women? When I look at this panel I don't see a single woman," New York. Rep. Carolyn Maloney said.

It was a refrain taken up by a number of senators on Friday, each posing next to a picture of the male religious leaders testifying.

"Not one woman is seated at this table," New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said.

"Just when I thought I couldn't be any more dumbfounded by the debate around here, in terms of denying access to women's health services, there was a hearing and all of the witnesses were male," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said.

It was just the latest go-round in the increasingly intense battle over President Barack Obama's policy forcing religious organizations to have their insurance companies provide birth control, morning after pills and other contraception services to their employees.

The female lawmakers say the issue is women's rights, religious leaders don't see it that way.

"The administration impedes religious liberty by unilaterally redefining what it means to be religious," said Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of the Strauss Center Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.

The Catholic League's Bill Donohue doesn't deny that women have a say in contraception.

"But the first and foremost issue on the table is the First Amendment right to religious liberty that trumps every other issue," Donohue said.

The following is his analogy:

"If the government came and tried to shut down your broadcast today would that be a media issue? Would that be a political issue? But what would it really be? It would be a First Amendment issue of freedom of speech," Donohue said.

"When will they get this simple non-debatable fact? The power to decide whether or not a woman will use contraception lays with her, not her boss," Sen. Gillibrand said.

This debate is far from over. Sources told CBS 2's Kramer that when Timothy Dolan returns from Rome after he gets his cardinal's red hat he will personally decide what next steps the church should take.

There is already one court suit and there could be others.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

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