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Limbaugh, Fluke, and the So-called “War on Women”

If you’ve aren’t up to speed on the whole contraception bru-ha thats’ been going on, here it is in a nutshell:

A few weeks ago, President Obama essentially stated that church-affiliated institutions would have to provide access to contraception coverage for their employees.  Religious institutions, lead by the Catholic church, immediately cried foul, saying they should continue to have an exemption based on moral grounds, i.e. the church does not believe in contraception.  After a huge stick erupted, Obama issued a compromise:  that insurance companies would not only be required to provide contraception directly to the employees of such institutions, which would circumvent the the employer, but that insurers would provide the contraception for free, as part of “preventive” coverage.  Conservatives say Obama is spearheading a “war on religion.”

Soon after, there was a hearing in the US House of Representatives about the issue.  Democrats criticized Republicans because the entire panel for the morning hearing was made up of men (there was an afternoon hearing with 2 women on the panel).  Dems had attempted to have a woman, Sandra Fluke, testify, but Republicans stated she was not added to the list in time.  Democrats say this is further proof that Republicans are at war with women.

A few days later, Fluke testifies at a Democrat-sponsored hearing.  The 3rd year law student at Georgetown Law spoke of how the fact that the school does not provide contraception coverage as part of its health plan made things difficult for female students, and that the contraception mandate should stay.  Jumping on this, radio talking head Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut,” basically saying she implied she and other students want to be paid to have sex since they demand free contraception.  Under fire, Limbaugh has apologized.

Now, my thoughts, in no particular order…

Is there a war on women?  Personally, I don’t think there is.  However, Republicans aren’t doing themselves any favors.  Whether it’s the Georgia House passing a bill to lower the “deadline” for getting an abortion from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, or Virginia attempting to pass legislation requiring any woman wanting an abortion to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound first (referred to as a “mechanical rape” by one radio talk show host), one could say that conservative lawmakers, who are mostly male, do seem to have women’s reproductive parts in the crosshairs.  But its nothing new.  Things like this happen every year.  In this case, however, it’s an election year.  Gotta rev up the base!  Let’s see how independent voters respond.  After all, those are the voters that will determine the winners.

Sandra Fluke.  Who and why the uproar?  As mentioned before, Sandra Fluke is a law student who testified before the House.  She is also an activist who has advocated against child trafficking and for wider contraception coverage for women.  Fluke not getting to testify in that morning hearing actually worked to Democrats’ advantage; their later “hearing” where she spoke was not a hearing, and Fluke was not required to be under oath.  Plus, the public was introduced to the third year law student, not the experienced activist–very important for PR reasons.  Her main point of argument was that the policy dictating that students at religious institutions that do not want to provide contraception coverage be given direct access via insurance companies be upheld.  The impression given was, she came to Georgetown and didn’t realize contraception wasn’t covered.  However, in a previous interview, she acknowledged she knew before enrolling that it wasn’t covered but that she was “not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care.”  So, she knew what she was getting into ahead of time.

Medically necessary vs choice.  During her testimony, Fluke spoke of a student who had polycystic ovary disease.  Because she could not afford the cost of birth control out of pocket, and because the college didn’t cover it, she eventually had to have an ovary removed.  Fluke stated that in reply to Catholic supporters who asked what she expected when she enrolled at the institution, she answered that “we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create untenable burdens that impede our academic success.” I’m not sure where the unequal treatment is here.  Comparing contraception coverage to coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs is a false equivalence–one prevents pregnancy, while one doesn’t.  I would say that birth control pills used to cover a medical condition should be covered.  But how exactly does not having coverage for contraception impede academic success?  There are other forms of contraception available that are affordable on a college student budget.  And ultimately, though it sounds old school, if one can’t afford the ramifications of having sex, wouldn’t the ultimate answer be “don’t have sex?”

Rush Limbaugh and double standards.  Long story short, Rush Limbaugh issued an apology for calling Fluke a “slut” and making other disparaging comments.  It was an opening Democrats took full advantage of, taking his comments and implying that as the de facto leader of the GOP, his comments represented how the GOP felt about women.  They also stated he only apologized because he was losing sponsors–probably a true statement.  The problem is, there seems to be a double standard.  As outlined in a piece by Kirsten Powers, a number of left-leaning talking heads have made similar statements. Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, Keith Olbermann, and especially Bill Maher have all gone off on women at one point or another, and didn’t get the wrath of the left dropped on them. Supposedly, the difference is the amount of influence Limbaugh has with the GOP, and that he is on the “public airwaves.” But bad statements are bad statements. Excusing your side while going after the other is simply political expediency.

I finish by pointing out two things.  First, credit to the President for using the situation as a way to score some bonus points.  He called Fluke to give her encouragement and see if she was ok.  How touching.  Second, a “right” is not a “right” if you are taking someone else’s stuff.  Free birth control isn’t a right, because someone else has to pay for it.