Within days of her testimony, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh targeted her in his radio show on February 29, 2012 and uttered the now famous words "slut" and "prostitute" to characterize her and mock her testimony. He continued his attack on Fluke (whom he repeatedly and erroneously referred to as "Susan Fluke") the following day on Thursday, March 1. Immediately after the two broadcasts, a groundswell of criticism erupted. Limbaugh was excoriated for behavior that many labeled "brutal" and vicious."
In the week that followed, the Fluke/Limbaugh controversy inflamed liberals and conservatives and ultimately led more than a dozen companies to end their advertising contracts with the Rush Limbaugh show. With thousands of Limbaugh supporters and detractors posting comments through Twitter and on the Facebook pages of Limbaugh advertisers, much misinformation was disseminated as to the nature of Fluke's testimony and Limbaugh's comments. What is fact and what is fiction?
Below is a side by side comparison of what Fluke said (excerpted from a transcript of her testimony on February 23, 2012) and what Limbaugh said (excerpted from transcripts of The Rush Limbaugh Show from February 29 and March 1, 2012.)
Interspersed are assessments of their statements from a variety of sources including: Kathy Gill, professor of digital media communication at the University of Washington, former state and federal lobbyist and former Guide to USPolitics for About.com, and contributor to the news analysis blog The Moderate Voice; Joanne Bamberger, a political and media strategist/analyst, publisher/editor in chief of the online magazine The Broad Side, election editor/correspondent for iVillage iVote, and founder of the blog PunditMom; Rachel Larris, Communications Manager at the Women’s Media Center and former Communications Director at American Forum and the National Women’s Editorial Forum; Kathleen Parker, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist with the Washington Post; and Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist, best-selling author, former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and speechwriter for George H.W. Bush.
Sandra Fluke(2/23): I attend a Jesuit law school that does not provide contraception coverage in its student health plan. Just as we students have faced financial, emotional, and medical burdens as a result, employees at religiously affiliated hospitals and universities across the country have suffered similar burdens....
On a daily basis, I hear from yet another woman...who has suffered financial, emotional, and medical burdens because of this lack of contraceptive coverage....
Without insurance coverage, contraception can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school. For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer’s salary. Forty percent of female students at Georgetown Law report struggling financially as a result of this policy.One told us of how embarrassed and powerless she felt when she was standing at the pharmacy counter, learning for the first time that contraception wasn’t covered, and had to walk away because she couldn’t afford it. Women like her have no choice but to go without contraception. Just last week, a married female student told me she had to stop using contraception because she couldn’t afford it any longer. Women employed in low wage jobs without contraceptive coverage face the same choice.
Rush Limbaugh (2/29): 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....Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said that it's too expensive to have sex in law school without mandated insurance coverage. 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 and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope. "'Forty percent of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggled financially as a result of this policy (Georgetown student insurance not covering contraception), Fluke reported. It costs a female student $3,000 to have protected sex over the course of her three-year stint in law school, according to her calculations.
"'Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school,' Fluke told the hearing. $3,000 for birth control in three years? That's a thousand dollars a year of sex -- and, she wants us to pay for it."...You guys who are thinking you're not gonna go to college? Let me just say one thing to you: Georgetown. They're admitting before congressional committee that they're having so much sex they can't afford the birth control pills!
Kathy Gill at The Moderate Voice (3/2): Birth control pills are often prescribed to treat medical conditions such as ovarian cysts. Once-upon-a-time they were prescribed to help with debilitating monthly cramps (personal experience) and excessive bleeding (friends’ experiences).
Traditional birth control pills cost less than $80 a month, but the Ortho Evra birth control patch (contraception) costs about $80-100 per month in Washington, DC zip code 20002. The patch delivery system is much more reliable (you change it once/week) than birth control pills (which you must take daily). Because it’s a transdermal patch, the dose is lower (safer) because stomach acid isn’t involved. Here’s a list of female contraception; and here’s GoodRX, which allows you to look at prices by zip code.
Since we’re talking about contraception, why not revisit this proposal from two years ago, a proposal that just went into effect in Australia (sorta). Make the 50-year-old birth control pill OTC. Over-the-counter. That should bring the price down tout de suite.
Sandra Fluke (2/23): You might respond that contraception is accessible in lots of other ways. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Women’s health clinics provide vital medical services, but as the Guttmacher Institute has documented, clinics are unable to meet the crushing demand for these services. Clinics are closing and women are being forced to go without. How can Congress consider the Fortenberry, Rubio, and Blunt legislation that would allow even more employers and institutions to refuse contraceptive coverage and then respond that the non-profit clinics should step up to take care of the resulting medical crisis, particularly when so many legislators are attempting to defund those very same clinics?
These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people. In the worst cases, women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer dire consequences. A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. Under many religious institutions’ insurance plans, it wouldn’t be, and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that an exception be made for such medical needs. When they do exist, these exceptions don’t accomplish their well-intended goals because when you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose aren’t, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.
In sixty-five percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed these prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms. For my friend, and 20% of 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. She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy. After months of paying over $100 out of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore and had to stop taking it. I learned about all of this when I walked out of a test and got a message from her that in the middle of her final exam period she’d been in the emergency room all night in excruciating pain. She wrote, “It was so painful, I woke up thinking I’d been shot.” Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary. On the morning I was originally scheduled to give this testimony, she sat in a doctor’s office. Since last year’s surgery, she’s been experiencing night sweats, weight gain, and other symptoms of early menopause as a result of the removal of her ovary. She’s 32 years old. As she put it: “If my body indeed does enter early menopause, no fertility specialist in the world will be able to help me have my own children. I will have no chance at giving my mother her desperately desired grandbabies, simply because the insurance policy that I paid for totally unsubsidized by my school wouldn’t cover my prescription for birth control when I needed it.” Now, in addition to potentially facing the health complications that come with having menopause at an early age-- increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, she may never be able to conceive a child.
Perhaps you think my friend’s tragic story is rare. It’s not. One woman told us doctors believe she has endometriosis, but it can’t be proven without surgery, so the insurance hasn’t been willing to cover her medication. Recently, another friend of mine told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome. She’s struggling to pay for her medication and is terrified to not have access to it. Due to the barriers erected by Georgetown’s policy, she hasn’t been reimbursed for her medication since last August. I sincerely pray that we don’t have to wait until she loses an ovary or is diagnosed with cancer before her needs and the needs of all of these women are taken seriously.
This is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends. A woman’s reproductive healthcare isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health.
Next page: Limbaugh's 'Slut' and 'Prostitute' Comments