Forum Center, 3/13/12

Limbaugh’s Comments Cause a Stir

President Obama’s decision to not grant exemptions to Catholic and other religious groups for health insurance coverage on issues affecting women’s health stirred up considerable debate on Capitol Hill. Ten days ago, in a hearing before a Congressional committee convened by Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Sandra Fluke, a 30 year old Georgetown law student and past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ), testified about how the lack of insurance coverage for women was having a detrimental affect on the female law students at Georgetown. As a Catholic institution, Georgetown has taken the position that birth control pills and elective abortion violate church doctrine.

Fluke testified that she was aware of women law students who had medical conditions for which birth control pills are often prescribed, who were unable to afford the medication since it was not covered by Georgetown’s insurance plan.  Fluke testified that the cost of the pill could run as much as $3000 for the three year period that the women would be enrolled at Georgetown law School. She testified that for some the cost was unaffordable, and that the lack of coverage meant that women would have to go without the medication. Fluke testified that she was aware of the school’s policies prior to her enrollment but choose Georgetown because she hoped to bring about change in the school’s insurance policy during her tenure there.  Her testimonial was anecdotal: she did not specify how many women needed the coverage for medical conditions rather than birth control, but that 40% of the female students struggled to cover the associated costs.

After her testimony, nationally syndicated talk radio host Rush Limbaugh made some comments during his radio show. Limbaugh, deriding Fluke’s testimony, suggested that her wanting coverage for her birth control so that she could have recreational sex made her a “slut.”  The following is part of the transcript from Limbaugh’s commentary:

“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.”

Limbaugh’s incendiary comments caused a firestorm of protest and the 20 year veteran of the talk radio wars quickly found himself under attack. Limbaugh, who is not known for taking back his often controversial comments,  issued a rare apology saying he was “sincerely” sorry about his “insulting” characterization of Fluke. But he maintained that the birth control debate was about “personal sexual recreational activities,” not any broader health questions. Some, including Fluke, didn’t believe the apology as sincere. Here is the apology as posted by Limbaugh.

“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? […] 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.”

Limbaugh’s comments have caused some advertisers to cancel their sponsorship of his show and even prompted President Obama to weigh in. There are now calls for Limbaugh to be thrown off the air and call for a civil lawsuit against Limbaugh by Fluke for defamation.

Forum Question of the Week:

Should Rush Limbaugh have been required to apologize for his comments about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke?  Was the apology sufficient or should there be other consequences for his comment?

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