Access To Contraception Makes You A Slut

House Democratic Steering Committee Holds Hearing On Women's Health

US radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, celebrity of the political right, has launched, then defended, a scathing attack on a young third year law student at Georgetown University. The controversy has escalated all the way to the desk of the president. Barack Obama called the student in question, Sandra Fluke, personally to offer his support. Limbaugh’s comments were in response to Ms Fluke giving testimony to US law makers in support of a law Obama is trying to push through the senate. The basic jist of the law is to enforce institutions that have some kind of religious connection, such as universities or medical centres, to provide health insurance for their employees that cover all forms of contraception. The key thing to note here is that these institutions are not themselves tasked with actually providing these services, nor the cost of insurance – simply that the insurance companies they use to provide cover for their staff must include access to these services should employees wish to seek them out.

Ms Fluke was initially barred from testifying by House Republicans but later invited to speak to a second panel convened by House Democrats. Her testimony was formed in part by examples and stories of her time as president of the Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ). Her appearence enraged Rush Limbaugh so much he began a tirade of personal attacks on not only her opinions but on her character. This is exactly the kind of poisonous rhetoric that is infecting public discourse in the US right now, much to the shock of the seemingly more civilised UK, and Europe as a whole. Here you cannot just make attacks of personal nature and expect to get away with it. In the US it has become all to normal to see such behaviour not just tolerated but encouraged. So what did Rush Limbaugh actually say?

What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. 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.

There is so much wrong with these five short sentences I barely know where to begin. I suppose it’s worth pointing out that the idea you can pick and choose where your taxes go is pointless, as a society you’d never get anywhere. There are things the the UK government spends money on which I don’t agree with, but I still pay my taxes because I know I share that responsibility along with every other citizen. They way to affect change is not to make such conceited remarks, but to just vote for someone you think will do it better. There is also a huge difference to being paid for something and having something subsidised. Bus travel here in the UK is subsidised by the government, does this mean I’m being paid to take the bus? Of course it doesn’t. The last thing to note is that Rush Limbaugh seems to be assuming that being a prostitute is a universally derogatory term. Clearly many people would not wish to be a prostitute, but there are those who would. After all it’s often termed ‘the oldest profession in the world‘, and business is just as good as it’s always been. Being a prostitute isn’t in itself a bad thing, but Limbaugh is attacking Ms Fluke as if it is, which in itself is an insult to sex workers everywhere. After hearing news of Obama’s phone conversation with Ms Fluke, Limbaugh continued his assult.

Oh right is that … Well, that’s touching. Obama just called Sandra Fluke to make sure she was all right? Awww. That’s so compassionate! What a great guy. The president calls her to make sure she’s okay. What is she 30 years old? Thirty years old, a student at Georgetown Law, who admits to have so much sex she can’t afford it any more. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.

What makes these comments especially shocking to Europeans – who have socialised health care such as the NHS in the UK, is that Ms Fluke’s testimony detailed some harrowing cases of people at the front line of the battle for social healthcare in the US. It has become such a polarising political debate that basic human decency such as women’s rights and access to even the most basic of health care has been cast to the fringes and replaced by shameful political power plays and intolerant hate speech spouted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. Ms Fluke’s statement to the select committee included several examples of women placed in desperate circumstances by the Georgetown University’s, and by extension – the Catholic church’s, deplorable resistance to contraception. Most desperate is the story of one of Ms Fluke’s fellow law students, who does not need contraception to avoid pregnancy – but to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome.

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.

Ms Fluke’s testimony continues with several other stories such as this, each one it’s own personal tragedy. None of these stories matter to Rush Limbaugh however, he doesn’t care about an individual’s rights to health care, women’s rights or even (if he must disagree) – basic manners and civil discourse. Limbaugh has today apologised for his remarks, but it’s clear to everyone he does not really mean it. It’s only after corporate sponsors of his radio show started to pull out that his bosses insisted he apologise.

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

Several advertisers and sponsors of the show have ceased their involvement and have vowed not to return. Shaunna Thomas, a co-founder of UltraViolet, an online women’s rights  advocacy organization, criticised the apology. “Rush’s apology wasn’t actually an apology. He did little more than continue to expose himself as the anti-woman and offensive media personality that he is.” Her scepticism is well founded, Limbaugh has a long history of incidary remarks and apologies are rare. It’s only when treatened with a loss of revenue the he clamers to rescue the situation.

You can read the entire of Sandra Fluke’s testimony here.

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