The president of Georgetown University on Friday came to the defense of a law student who was referred to as a “slut” and a “prostitute” by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh after she testified last week in support of health insurance plans covering the cost of contraceptives.
President John J. DeGioia sent an e-mail to everyone on campus Friday morning in which he did not address the university’s health-care policies but supported third-year law student Sandra Fluke’s “right to respectful free expression.”
The Catholic school’s health insurance plan does not cover contraceptives, and Fluke quickly became the face of the issue after she offered to speak for her classmates who have to pay out of pocket for birth control. She has subsequently been attacked by pundits and bloggers, most famously Limbaugh.
“She was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction. She provided a model of civil discourse,” DeGioia wrote in his e-mail. “And yet, some of those who disagreed with her position – including Rush Limbaugh and commentators throughout the blogosphere and in various other media channels – responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student.”
Fluke was invited by Democrats to speak at a mid-February congressional hearing about the health reform law’s mandated coverage of contraceptives, which some argue is a violation of religious liberties. She was unable to do so because the hearing chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said her name was submitted too late. Democrats dispute that.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then arranged for Fluke to speak at an unofficial hearing Feb. 23. In her testimony, Fluke made clear that she was speaking on behalf of other women, some of whom spend as much as $1,000 a year for birth control because Georgetown’s campus health plan will not cover contraceptives.
On Wednesday night, Limbaugh brought up Fluke’s testimony on his show.
“What does that make her?” Limbaugh said. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”
“She wants to be paid to have sex,” he continued. “She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception.”
On Thursday, Limbaugh expanded on his comments and offered no apology.
Fluke appeared on NBC’s “Today” on Friday morning and said she was was initially “stunned” by Limbaugh’s comments and is now “outraged and very upset.”
She deemed the comments “an attempt to silence me, to silence all of us from speaking about the health care we need,” and pointed out that while Limbaugh is the most prominent person to attack her, many others have said similar things.
She has also heard from supporters — including President Obama, who called Fluke on Friday, she told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
“He encouraged me and supported me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women,” Fluke told Mitchell. “And what was really personal for me was that he said to tell my parents that they should be proud. And that meant a lot because Rush Limbaugh questioned whether or not my family would be proud of me. So, I just appreciated that very much.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “The president called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke because he wanted to offer his support, express his disappointment, that she was the subject of an inappropriate personal attack and thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on public policy.”
Asked what Obama thought about Limbaugh’s comments, Carney said: “They were reprehensible. They were disappointing. It is reprehensible that those kinds of personal and crude attacks could be leveled at someone like this young law school student who was simply expressing her opinion on a matter of public policy and doing it with a great deal of poise.”
The law school also released a statement that condemned the “attacks” on Fluke and applauded “her strength and grace in the face of them.” The statement was signed by dozens of faculty members, administrators and students at Georgetown and other law schools.
“Ms. Fluke has had the courage to publicly defend and advocate for her beliefs about an important issue of widespread concern,” the statement reads. “She has done so with passion and intelligence. And she has been rewarded with the basest sort of name-calling and vilification, words that aim only to belittle and intimidate.”
Staff writer Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.