A law student subjected to personal slurs by radio commentator Rush Limbaugh for advocating health insurance coverage for contraception received a phone call offering support yesterday from President Barack Obama.
The student, Sandra Fluke, was barred from testifying last month before a House committee on what became an all-male panel talking about women’s access to birth control. She appeared a week later before House Democrats and discussed the need for insurance to cover contraception for women.
Obama called Fluke, who is attending Georgetown University’s law school, and spoke with her for several minutes, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Obama thought Limbaugh’s comments were “reprehensible,” Carney said.
“He wanted to offer his support to her,” Carney said. “He wanted to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks and to thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy.”
Fluke said on MSNBC that Obama “encouraged me and thanked me for speaking out about the concerns of American women” and told me to “tell my parents that they should be proud.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California decried the “vicious and inappropriate attacks” leveled against Fluke, and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, criticized Limbaugh’s remarks in a statement from his spokesman, Michael Steel.
“The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation,” Steel said.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a fundraising appeal shortly after Fluke was excluded from the House hearing.
Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his March 1 show, according to a transcript posted on his website. A day later, he said on his program that Fluke admitted to “having so much sex that she can’t afford it anymore. And thus, a new welfare entitlement must be created so that society will pay for it.”
His comments cost the program some of its advertising. Quicken Loans Inc. of Detroit said it was suspending its ads due to Limbaugh’s “inflammatory comments along with valuable feedback from our clients and staff,” chairman Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, said on Twitter.
Select Comfort Corp., the Plymouth, Minnesota-based maker of the Sleep Number beds, and the Sleep Train Inc., a Citrus Heights, California-based mattress retailer, also withdrew their ads, according to Twitter posts.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, asked about Limbaugh’s comments in a CNN interview yesterday, said the talk show host was “being absurd.”
“But that’s, you know, an entertainer can be absurd,” said Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. “He’s in a very different business than I am.”
Santorum rival Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said “it’s not the language I would have used” after being pressed by reporters at an event in Cleveland to weigh in on Limbaugh’s comments.
“I’m focusing on the issues that I think are significant in the country today, and that’s why I’m here talking about jobs and Ohio,” Romney said.
Source of Controversy
The controversy over birth control arose after the Obama administration initially required religiously affiliated universities and hospitals to pay for contraception coverage for their employees, with the exception of houses of worship. The administration then modified the rule so that insurers, not the institutions themselves, would pay for the coverage.
The Democratic-controlled Senate blocked Republican-sponsored legislation on March 1 that would let all employers or insurers exclude coverage for any health service that violates their religious beliefs.
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which held the hearing that excluded Fluke, called on the panel’s chairman, California Republican Darrell Issa, to join in the condemnation of Limbaugh.
“You are in a unique position to speak out now on her behalf and to join us in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, this very public and very malicious attack on all women who share her views,” they wrote in a March 1 letter to Issa.
Issa responded yesterday, calling the Democrats’ focus on Limbaugh’s comments “self-serving and dismissive of other inappropriate comments and attacks on Americans of faith” and instead suggested that both sides offer a “broader condemnation” of “the regrettable personal attacks that have come from individuals on both sides.”