You may recall Sandra Fluke as the law student that bizarre logic-destroying radio pundit Rush Limbaugh publicly called a slut/prostitute (detail-oriented guy that he is, he uses the terms interchangeably) for arguing that contraceptives should be covered by the health insurance offered by Georgetown University, where she was a student.
As the story went, Georgetown was entitled to refuse coverage under a healthcare provision known as the Conscience Clause; because Georgetown is a Catholic school, and the Catholic Church opposes birth control, the school was allowed to refuse coverage on this "conscience" basis. Fluke argued in taped Congressional testimony that often hormonal birth control is wildly expensive no matter its purpose, and is often prescribed to control certain conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, and not necessarily because the HBC-seeker is keen to bed the entire Georgetown Lacrosse team.
(Although frankly, that should be okay too.)
Fluke’s new status as reproductive rights poster lady scored her a spot as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention last night, where she took the opportunity to outline the oft-referenced War on Women as it might be waged by a Romney administration, should one be elected in November, mentioning restrictions on abortion and birth control, but also the movement to redefine rape and the inconsistencies in healthcare costs for women versus men.
Fluke’s speech was blessedly brief and to the point, her purpose at the convention to represent some young feminist blood and to refine the repeated message that a hypothetical Romney/Ryan presidency would only make things worse for women. Which, policy-wise, is probably true.
Even more interesting than Fluke’s speech, however, were some of the conservative responses to it, most of which focused on discrediting Fluke on the basis of her gender and her alleged sexual habits, in a weirdly obvious reinforcement of many of Fluke’s points. ThinkProgress has assembled some of these reactions specifically from conservative pundits on Twitter; elsewhere, Buzzfeed has taken the low road and evidently searched Twitter for instances in which "Sandra Fluke" and "cunt" appeared in the same tweet, and they were not disappointed.
The comments from men are sort of predictable, accusing Fluke of “whining” and being generally dismissive of birth control coverage as a real issue, if they’re not overtly condemning her as a filthy whore.
To their credit, however, the comments from female pundits overall ran a little different, forgoing the cheap sex jokes (well, except for Ann Coulter) and sticking to the issues being addressed.
Among other half-formed thoughts, Ann Coulter suggested that Fluke’s position was hypocritical. Coulter proposes that somehow asking for fair insurance coverage of reproductive-specific, often medically necessary prescription drugs is somehow exactly the same as the conservative movement toward making safe abortion virtually inaccessable and thereby forcing women to carry fetuses to term in spite of any feelings (or health risks) they may associate with the prospect.
This is a movement, I should add, which Coulter generally supports. So, is government intervention in women’s fertility okay or not? It seems Coulter’s answer would be yes if the woman in question is already pregnant, but no if she’s not. Hey Pot, I’d like to introduce you to Kettle, although now that I think about it y’all may have met before.
In a friendly nod to the desperately oppressed men of the world, conservative pundit Dana Loesch inquired as to why birth control for non-ladies is not also free. This is a bit of a Zen koan of a question, unfortunately -- if hormonal birth control for men does not exist, how can anyone pay for it? Should men also be entitled to procure Plan B at the pharmacy for free to give to their ladyfriends in times of need? Hell fucking yes. And I am bound to note that such gentlemanly foresight would likely result in a high volume of women seeking this hypothetical man’s thoughtful company of an evening.
More permanent birth control in the form of vasectomies, as well as tubal ligations for the ladies, are already covered by most health insurance plans, which makes them "free" in a manner of speaking. Condoms are freely dispensed by Planned Parenthood, but unfortunately the Republican candidate has already asserted his plan to defund Planned Parenthood, so I guess that’s not a real reliable source should Romney/Ryan come to power.
So yeah, good question, Dana Loesch! Why ISN’T birth control for men free?
The most memorable line from Fluke’s speech is likely to be her assertion that Romney running mate Paul Ryan "co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms." The bill in question is H.R. 358, the ironically named Protect Life Act, which, among other things, would allow healthcare providers with moral objections (such as Catholic-sponsored hospitals -- geez, those wacky Catholics always up to the reproductive antics!) to deny pregnant women life-saving abortions even in emergency situations -- this would be a stark change to current law, which dictates that hospitals are required to administer emergency care, regardless of personal objection, to save a patient’s life.
The sum total is that this bill would have made it legal for hospitals to allow pregnant women to die rather than perform a procedure that could enable her to survive at the expense of the fetus she carries. Lest you think this sort of thing is purely hypothetical, it has actually happened.
In one example, a woman 14 weeks pregnant who suffered ruptured membranes and was in the middle of a miscarriage was forced by the Catholic hospital to travel 90 miles to another hospital to complete the miscarriage. In another instance, a pregnant woman was already septic and hemorrhaging, and her doctor recommended a pregnancy termination. The Catholic hospital staff refused. Rather than treat the woman, the staff proposed moving her from the emergency room into a hospital bed, giving her a transfusion, and waiting for the fetus to die before helping the woman.
Another doctor reported that a woman, pregnant at 19 weeks, was "dying before our eyes"—she had a 106 degree fever and the whites of her eyes were filled with blood—but still the Catholic hospital refused to treat her until the fetus finally died. The woman barely survived after spending 10 days in the intensive care unit. The doctor, disgusted with the Catholic hospital's policies that endangered patients, eventually quit his position to work at a nonsectarian medical center.
Shameful and hateful perhaps, but also true.
One point that many female pundits seized upon was Fluke’s comment that President Obama called her following Rush Limbaugh’s ugly verbal assault to offer his support, but that Obama has failed to correspondingly console the numerous conservative women who have suffered similar brutality.
On this, these women are absolutely right. I don’t have to like Ann Coulter or agree with Laura Ingraham to stand fast with the idea that dismissing them based on their gender, be it by harmless "jokes" or by vicious and disgusting insults and attacks, is dead wrong. If it’s not acceptable to call Fluke a cunt for speaking her mind, it’s no more acceptable to call Ann Coulter one for doing the same thing.
And frankly, offering the President a special cookie for calling Fluke when it happened to be politically expeditious for him to do so (I’m not suggesting this is the ONLY reason he did it, but there’s little doubt this was some small element of it) is insulting to pretty much everyone involved.
Loyal opposition aside, Sandra Fluke certainly accomplished her goal of reminding us, both with her presence and her words, of what precisely is at stake with regards to reproductive rights. It’s fine that for some, coverage for birth control and women’s health is a non-issue, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t critically important to many women’s lives and overall well-being, or that the conversation isn’t worth having. It is. It’s absolutely necessary.