Law Student Mired in Birth Control Debate
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Updated: Sunday, March 4, 2012 00:03
After three years of petitioning the university to amend its health insurance policy to include coverage for contraception, Sandra Fluke (LAW '12) was used to sparking controversy.
But when Fluke was barred from testifying on the issue before the House Oversight Committee earlier this month, she became embroiled in a much larger and more vitriolic debate.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh provoked a media firestorm when he called Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" Wednesday for advocating that employers include coverage for contraception in their health care plans at a meeting of the House Democratic Steering Committee. Fluke was invited to appear at the meeting after she was prevented from testifying before the House Oversight Committee.
"So Miss Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here's the deal," Limbaugh said on his show Thursday. "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
Fluke responded with a statement, saying that remarks like Limbaugh's would not silence her or her fellow advocates.
"This language is an attack on all women," she said. "The millions of American women who have and will continue to speak out in support of women's health care and access to contraception prove that we will not be silenced."
On Friday, several Georgetown administrators came to Fluke's defense, including University President John J. DeGioia.
"One need not agree with [Fluke's] substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression. And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position – including Rush Limbaugh … responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic and a misrepresentation of the position of our student," DeGioia wrote in a message emailed to the Georgetown community.
DeGioia went on to call for a greater degree of civility in public debate.
"If we, instead, allow coarseness, anger – even hatred – to stand for civil discourse in America, we violate the sacred trust that has been handed down through the generations," he said. "This is our moment to stand for the values of civility in our engagement with one another."
Georgetown Law also released a statement on the issue, which was signed by over 100 members of the school's faculty and about 50 representatives of law schools at other universities.
"As scholars and teachers who aim to train public-spirited lawyers, no matter what their politics, to engage intelligently and meaningfully with the world, we abhor these attacks on Ms. Fluke and applaud her strength and grace in the face of them," the statement said.
After several sponsors pulled patronage of Limbaugh's show as a result of the controversy, Limbaugh issued a statement on his website saying that he didn't mean a personal attack on Fluke
"My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir," he wrote in the statement.
The hearings that sparked this controversy were originally convened to address a mandate set by President Obama last month, when he announced that most religiously affiliated employers would be required to provide contraceptive coverage for employees under the new health care legislation.
Obama then modified his position to allow institutions to apply for an accommodation that will allow them to outsource contraceptive coverage to independent insurance providers.
Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said that Fluke's name had been submitted too late to be considered for the oversight committee's hearing two weeks ago. The panel Fluke wanted to be a part of ended up consisting entirely of men.
Two of the committee's female members, including the District's non-voting representative Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), walked out of the hearing to protest the absence of women on the panel.
The Democratic hearing that convened a week later was intended to be a response to the Oversight Committee panel and an opportunity for Fluke to give her testimony.
"I think it was definitely a useful thing," Fluke told The Hoya. "The legislators I met with privately, outside of the hearing, were very interested in hearing about it. They weren't aware of some of the issues."
Though the debate surrounding the mandate has circulated primarily around the use of contraceptives as birth control, in her testimony Fluke stressed that many women require contraception for medical purposes.
Speaking before the Democratic steering committee, Fluke told the story of a fellow student who needed prescription birth control for polycystic ovarian syndrome but was denied coverage under Georgetown's health insurance plan. According to Fluke, her friend was unable to pay for the prescription out of pocket and ultimately had to undergo surgery to remove the cyst that developed.
"These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people. In the worst cases, women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer dire consequences," she told the committee. "When you let university administrators or other employers … dictate whose medical needs are good enough and whose aren't, a woman's health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body."
Tanisha Humphrey (SFS '12), the outreach coordinator for H*yas for Choice, hopes that the attention paid to Fluke will help bring the contraception coverage issue to the forefront for students.