Rush Limbaugh may have found the heart of the contraception controversy. (AP Photo/Photo courtesy of Rush Limb …Rush Limbaugh may have inadvertently gotten to the heart of the controversy over contraceptive coverage: It's not about religious freedom. It's that women who want prescription birth control without a co-payment are "sluts" and "prostitutes" who are "having so much sex that they're going broke," he says.
During his radio show on Wednesday, Rush took to task third-year Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who was prevented from testifying before a congressional committee about contraception coverage because Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California decided that she was not qualified to speak on the all-male panel. She later testified at an unofficial hearing of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, convened by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
"A Georgetown co-ed told Rep. Nancy Pelosi's hearing that the women in her law school program are having so much sex that they're going broke, so you and I should pay for their birth control," Limbaugh told his radio audience. "Apparently, four out of every ten co-eds are having so much sex that it's hard to make ends meet if they have to pay for their own contraception, Fluke's research shows. Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills."
He went on. And on.
"What does it say about the college co-ed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?" he continued. "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps. The johns, that's right."
He ended the segment saying, "OK, so, she's not a slut. She's round-heeled. I take it back." (The word is as outdated as calling a female college student a "co-ed," so we had to look it up: "round-heeled" is slang for "promiscuous.")
On Thursday, members of Congress defended Fluke and called on Republican leaders to condemn Limbaugh and others for their misogynistic rants. "She courageously spoke truth to power," Pelosi wrote in a joint statement with other members of Congress. "As a result, today, she has been subject to attacks that are outside the circle of civilized discussion and that unmask the strong disrespect for women held by some in this country."
In an email to supporters, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wrote: "Standing up for women's health care does not make you a 'slut' or a 'prostitute'. Rush and the right-wing Republicans in Congress who promote their radical War on Women must be held accountable for this."
Limbaugh responded by ratcheting up his rhetoric. In his Thursday show, he called on "feminazis" who use contraception to post sex videos of themselves online "so we can all watch." He demonstrated that he has no idea how birth control pills actually work, insisting that women take a pill every time they have sex and demanding, "Who pays for the abortions?" And he continued to attack Fluke personally, asking, "have you ever heard of not having sex?"
Misogyny aside -- if that's at all possible -- it's worth mentioning that Fluke's testimony wasn't about sexual freedom or reproductive rights. It was about medical conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis that can be successfully treated using prescription birth control pills, and what happens when women with those conditions are denied access to or can't afford to pay out-of-pocket for contraception.
"In 65 percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they need these prescriptions and whether they're lying about their symptoms," she testified. "For my friend, and 20 percent of the women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy."
For her friend, who is gay, Fluke pointed out, safe sex wasn't the issue. "Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary," Fluke continued. "She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary… Now, in addition to facing the health complications that come with having menopause at an early age -- increased risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis -- she may never be able to be a mom."
Georgetown University is a Jesuit school that does not offer its students health care plans that cover contraceptives. The President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges supports President Barack Obama's compromise over the contraception mandate, which calls on health insurance companies to offer birth control coverage directly to women, bypassing employers who are morally opposed to offering it. The new rule applies to non-religious institutions like charities, schools, and hospitals that are run by religious organizations; churches and religious groups themselves are exempt from the rule.
According to The Blaze, some people are questioning Fluke's credibility as a Congressional witness, saying that she is not "a wide-eyed 23-year-old girl caught without contraception on a college campus full of predatory men," but is actually a 30-year-old activist. The thing is, Fluke has never claimed to be anything else: In her testimony, she disclosed that she is an activist who was a past president of Georgetown's chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice (it's also on her public LinkedIn profile), Georgetown University confirmed that she is a third-year law student, and she never said anything about her age (which was misreported by several media outlets, including MSNBC).
President Barack Obama called Fluke on Friday to express his "disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks and to thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy," according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
After hearing about the president's call, Limbaugh said on his radio show: "That is so compassionate! What a great guy. The president called her to make sure she's okay. What is she 30 years old? Thirty years old, a student at Georgetown Law, who admits to having so much sex that she can't afford it anymore."
Fluke talked to ABC News on Friday about Limbaugh's remarks. "I just thought it was really inappropriate," she said. "It was certainly outside the bounds of civil discourse, and it was hurtful to me and to my family. But ultimately, as I said, it's been used against women before and I hope it won't be used against women again."
After condemnation from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers -- "I don't think he's very apologetic. He's doing it because some people were taking their advertisements off his program. It was his bottom line that he was concerned about," GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul told the CBS's "Face the Nation" -- Limbaugh posted a short apology to Fluke on his website over the weekend.
"For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week," he wrote. "In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke."
The apology, which did not air on his radio show, may be too little, too late for the conservative talk show host. Seven companies -- flower retailer ProFlowers, mortgage lender Quicken Loans, mattress retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, software maker Citrix Systems Inc., online data backup service provider Carbonite, and online legal document services company LegalZoom -- pulled their ads from his show in response to the uproar, the Associated Press reported. On Monday, AOL announced that they will stop advertising on Limbaugh's show as well, and singer Peter Gabriel, whose song "Sledgehammer" was playing during Limbaugh's initial tirade, has asked that his music not be used on the show again.
"At AOL one of our core values is that we act with integrity," AOL spokeswoman Maureen Sullivan told The Huffington Post (which is owned by AOL). "We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are not in line with our values. As a result we have made the decision to suspend advertising on The Rush Limbaugh Radio show."
By late Monday, three more advertisers -- Bonobos, Sears, and AllState Insurance -- had also stopped advertising on Limbaugh's show, and conservative talk-show host Don Imus called him "an insincere pig" for his "vile, personal attack" on Fluke.
"Enough of what he said," Imus told his Fox Business show audience. "He's a coward. You can't attack somebody like that."
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