Rush Limbaugh has betrayed his audience. I won't pretend that I write without an angle, but I know that it is possible to do so without lying and distorting the facts. This is not the case for Limbaugh, as it became clear on his show on Wednesday night, during which he again lashed out against student and contraception coverage mandate supporter Sandra Fluke.
Fluke, a third-year student at Georgetown Law School, came before an unofficial hearing led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to argue in favor of insurance coverage for birth control at religious institutions. Pelosi, it bears noting, had made arrangements to hear Fluke testify after the student was barred from the official hearing by presiding Republicans, who said her name had been submitted too late. According to the Washington Post, Democrats involved disagreed with this justification. Unsurprisingly, all the women present at the official hearing were opposed to the measure.
Fluke, who finally got her opportunity to share the views of Georgetown Law's Students for Reproductive Justice, told those in attendance about the plight faced by women who need birth control not only to prevent pregnancy, but also to treat illness such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis.
On his show, Limbaugh ignored the terrifying stories shared by Fluke about women who suffered hardship after being denied birth control, suggesting that the only reason students care about contraception is because they're oversexed.
Credit Image: © Andrea Renault/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com
During her testimony, Fluke related the story of a woman suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome, whose doctor prescribed her the birth control pill as a means of treating her condition. Despite the fact that Georgetown allows contraceptive coverage when it is not intended to prevent pregnancy, this woman never received coverage for her prescription. She was forced to stop taking the pill due to financial strain after months of paying for it out-of-pocket. During finals week, she was admitted to the emergency room after a massive cyst overtook one of her ovaries. Her ovary had to be removed.
To illustrate the point that not only heterosexual women need access to the pill, Fluke shared that the woman whose story she had shared is gay. "So clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy for her," Fluke said at the hearing.
If Limbaugh listened to her testimony, he chose to ignore it in its entirety. In an exchange with his pseudonymous call screener "Bo Snedley," Limbaugh made the following remarks about Fluke and anyone who supports this measure:
We assume they're having sex with guys. Well, we're talking about birth control, Snerdley. So you gotta assume having sex with guys. So, do they not have some responsibility? Well, two women... I have to ask sex expert Snerdley on this, but I'm not aware that two women without another device can get pregnant on their own using naturally endowed accoutrements. I don't think times have changed that much. [Chuckles.]
Now, I am 61. Maybe something I haven't heard about that two women together would need contraception. That's a whole new ball game if that's the case. But I don't think we're talking about that. So it means there are men involved and that would mean there's some responsibility on the part of the men. Do they not have condoms? Why don't these women go ask the men to buy them contraception? Why go before a congressional committee and demand that all of us -- because they want to have sex any time, as many times and as often as they want, with as many partners as they want -- should pay for it? Whatever, no limits on this. I mean, they're going broke having to buy contraception! They're getting back-alley pills, folks. That's what this leads up to.
Limbaugh refuses to accept that birth control has any other purpose than preventing pregnancy and he will not allow his listeners to even entertain the possibility.
Time and time again, Limbaugh refers to a story published by Craig Bannister at Cybercast News Service titled "Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate," which features the clearly misleading lede: "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."
Initially, it is unclear whether Limbaugh repeatedly cites this article as a means to justify his dishonest tirade or if he truly failed to do the appropriate research regarding Fluke's remarks, choosing to run with Bannister as his primary source instead. But as his follow-up show continues and Limbaugh plays more clips from Fluke's congressional hearing, it becomes evident that he is picking and choosing what he wants his listeners to hear, in order to corroborate the allegation he made in a previous show that Fluke is nothing but a slut who wants everyone else to pay for her birth control.
Again, Limbaugh calls Fluke and any women who believe they have the right to receive contraceptive coverage from insurance companies sluts and prostitutes, dismissing any concerns these women may have about their health as thinly veiled attempts to be paid for sex:
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? 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.
Rush Limbaugh is an enemy of women, an embarrassment to conservatives and a disgrace to everyone in his profession. I am unsurprised by the petition going around asking his advertisers to pull their content from his fraudulent show and I am inspired by the move on the part of Sleep Train and Sleep Number mattresses and Quicken Loans to pull their ads from his show (other advertisers have been identified, if you are interested in following up on their status with regard to his show).
For those of you who believe in getting your news straight from the source, I include a video below of the original testimony given by Sandra Fluke. A complete transcript follows.
Leader Pelosi, members of Congress, good morning and thank you for calling this hearing on women’s health and for allowing me to testify on behalf of the women who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage regulation. My name is Sandra Fluke and I’m a third year student at Georgetown Law School. I’m also a past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice or LSRJ and I’d like to acknowledge my fellow LSRJ members and allies and all of the student activists with us and thank them so much for being here today.
We as Georgetown LSRJ are here today because we’re so grateful that this regulation implements the non-partisan medical advice of the institute of medicine. I attend a Jesuit law school that does not provide contraceptive coverage in its student health plan. And just as we students have faced financial, emotional and medical burdens as a result, employees at religiously affiliated hospitals and institutions and universities across the country have suffered similar burdens. We are all grateful for the new regulation that will meet the critical health care needs of so many women. Simultaneously, the recently announced adjustment addresses any potential conflict with the religious identity of Catholic and Jesuit institutions.
When I look around my campus, I see the faces of the women affected by this lack of contraceptive coverage and especially in the last week I have heard more and more of their stories. On a daily basis I hear from yet another woman from Georgetown or from another school or who works for a religiously affiliated employer and they tell me that they have suffered financially, emotionally and medically because of this lack of coverage. And so I’m here today to share their voices. And I want to thank you for allowing them – them, not me – to be heard.
Without insurance coverage, contraception as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 over law school. For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer salary. Forty percent of the female students at Georgetown Law that they struggled financially as a result of this policy. One told us just how embarrassed and powerless she felt when she was standing at the pharmacy counter and learned for the first time that contraception was not covered on her insurance and she had to turn and walk away because she couldn’t afford that prescription. Women like her have no choice but to go without contraception.
Just last week, a married female student told me that she had to stop using contraception because she and her husband just couldn’t fit it into their budget anymore. Women employed in low-wage jobs without contraceptive coverage face the same choice. Some might respond that contraception is accessible in lots of other ways. Unfortunately that’s just not true. Women’s clinics provide a vital medical service, but as the Guttmacher Institute has definitively documented, these clinics are unable to meet the crushing demand for these services. Clinics are closing and women are being forced to go without the medical care they need.
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 very 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’s insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, under many religious institutions’ insurance plans, it wouldn’t be. There would be no exception for other medical needs and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that such an exception be made for these medical needs.
When this exception does 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 are not, a woman’s health takes a backseat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.
In sixty-five percent of the cases at our school, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed 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 for her.
After months of paying over $100 out of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore and she 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 the night in her final exam period she’d been in the emergency room – she’d been there all night in terrible, excruciating pain. She wrote to me, “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 was sitting in a doctor’s office, trying to cope with the consequences. 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. Some may say my friend’s tragic story is rare. It’s not. I wish it were. One woman told us doctors believe she has endometriosis, but that can’t be proven without surgery, so the insurance has not been willing to cover her medication, the contraception she needs to treat her endometriosis.
Recently, another woman told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome and she’s struggling to pay for her medication and is terrified not to 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.
Because 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 woman told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered on the insurance, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s reproductive and 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.
As one other student put it, “this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.” These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder. In the media lately, some conservative Catholic organizations have been asking: what did we expect when we enrolled at a Catholic school? We can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create untenable burdens that impede our academic success. We expected that our schools would live up to the Jesuit creed of cura personalis, to care for the whole person, by meeting all of our medical needs. We expected that when we told our universities of the problems this policy created for us as students, they would help us. We expected that when 94% of students opposed the policy, the university would respect our choices regarding insurance students pay for completely unsubsidized by the university.
We did not expect that women would be told in the national media that we should have gone to school elsewhere. And even if that meant going to a less prestigious university, we refuse to pick between a quality education and our health and we resent that, in the 21st century, anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this choice simply because we are women.
Many of the women whose stories I’ve shared today are Catholic women, so ours is not a war against the church. It is a struggle for access to the healthcare we need. The President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges has shared that Jesuit colleges and universities appreciate the modification to the rule announced recently. Religious concerns are addressed and women get the healthcare they need. I sincerely hope that is something we can all agree upon. Thank you.