Sandra Fluke on Her Role in the Contraception Controversy
Last week Sandra Fluke became famous overnight. But the cascading sequence of events leading to Rush Limbaugh’s tirade against the 30-year-old Georgetown law student began two months ago. At a Republican presidential debate on Jan. 7, moderator George Stephanopoulus mystified Mitt Romney — and many observers — by pressing Romney about his views on contraception. Two weeks later, the Obama Administration announced it would require Catholic universities and charities to include birth control as their health coverage. Republican presidential candidates accused Obama of launching a “war on religion.” Catholic bishops balked at the mandate. And in mid-February, around the time Obama acceded to pressure and softened the rule, GOP Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, scheduled a Feb. 16 hearing entitled, “Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
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Democrats on the committee tapped a low-level staffer to find a witness whose testimony and profile would juxtapose nicely with the tableau of white men Issa planned to call. The staffer found a video clip of Fluke speaking at the National Press Club on Feb. 9, when she was one of several Catholic students to defend the Obama Administration’s ruling. Fluke was eloquent, female and a student at a Jesuit institution to boot. “We couldn’t have picked a better witness,” says a Democratic committee staffer, who would not reveal the identify of the colleague who located Fluke.
Issa didn’t agree. He excluded Fluke, arguing that testimony on the benefits of the contraception mandate fell outside the bounds of a hearing held to scrutinize the rule. But it’s easy to see why Democrats considered Fluke (pronounced Fluck) compelling enough to hold their own hearing on Feb. 23, during a Congressional recess. Fluke is soft-spoken and earnest. She kept her poise, voice faltering only slightly, as she told the story of a gay friend who needed prescription birth control to prevent the growth of ovarian cysts. When Georgetown declined to cover the pills on the grounds that they were intended to prevent a pregnancy, Fluke said, her friend developed a cyst “the size of a tennis ball” that required the removal of her ovary. As Fluke noted, oral contraceptives, which can be costly, are often prescribed for medical issues unrelated to preventing pregnancy. “A woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body,” she told the assembled members of Congress.