The Republican pols who so gleefully pounced on the contraception mandate issue, thinking it would simultaneously titillate their conservative evangelical voter base and ObamaCare haters everywhere, while serving as a “wedge” with Catholic voters, have been frantic to frame the issue as one of “religious liberty,” not of access to contraceptives or of women’s health care. As you may have heard, this “framing” effort went horribly wrong this morning for House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) at a hearing on the mandate.

Here’s the background from Igor Volsky:

Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) had asked Issa to include a female witness at the hearing, but the Chairman refused, arguing that “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

The proposed witness in question, Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, is a friend of a fellow-student who lost an ovary after being denied contraceptives prescribed as a medical treatment. She is also obviously connected to one of the “religiously-affiliated institutions” that are at the center of the controversy, even according to the opponents of the mandate.

Issa’s imperious exclusion of Fluke, accompanied by comments that she was not “qualified” to testify, helped dramatize the fact that every single witness he called for the hearing’s first panel was a male religious authority opposing the mandate. The two female Democratic Members of the committee subsequently walked out of the hearing in protest.

Regardless of how you feel about the underlying issue, you’d have to agree Issa handled the situation as though determined to make his opponents’ most important point: in a dispute between government regulators and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the millions of women affected by the ultimate outcome aren’t being heard. Literally.

Thanks, Darrell. You saved us all a lot of time.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.