Ms. Fluke, former president of the Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice and an editor on the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, had been engaged in a struggle with Georgetown University over the university’s refusal to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Prevented last week from testifying at the overtly misogynistic hearing Republicans held in the House of Representatives, she was given a forum to speak at a Democratic event, where she reported that students at her university often pay as much as $1000 a year for contraceptives.That simple statement of fact prompted right-wing blow-hard and Oxycontin pill popper, Rush Limbaugh, to slander her in the most appalling manner possible. “What does that make her?” he asked. “It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.” These comments provoked a slew of denunciations from Democrats, and even Republicans like John Boehner and Mitt Romney attempted to distance themselves from Limbaugh, knowing full well the violent reaction that these words would provoke, particularly among women.
But Limbaugh himself was unrepentant. On Wednesday, he went on to throw even more fuel into the fire he had started by offering this piece of advice to Ms. Fluke: “If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”
It would seem that, according to Limbaugh and the conservatives who support him, any woman who uses birth control is not only a slut and a prostitute, but an aspiring porn star as well.
Despite the equivocation of some conservatives on this issue, there’s no doubt in my mind that the right-wing agenda in this country is fixated on turning back the clock on women’s reproductive rights. The problem for conservatives is that the war for control over reproductive rights was fought and won by women over 40 years ago, and there is no conceivable way that any reasonable woman is going to allow pasty old white men and clerics to strip them of the freedom that they now take for granted. Indeed, when over 90% of all Catholic women use some form of birth control—despite their Church’s attempts over the years to demonize the practice—you know that contraception is not an issue any longer in most Americans’ minds. It’s about as controversial as the question of what fabric softener to use.
When reactionaries like Limbaugh or Rick Santorum start to challenge the validity of these rights, all they will really succeed in doing is completely alienating reasonable women around the country. Furthermore, by continually harping on these sorts of issues, conservatives will ultimately drive women out of the Republican Party, just as they have driven out minorities, gays, and those who care about issues like environmental protection, civil liberties, and the separation of church and state. The only people who will be left in the Party will be the most extreme reactionaries and fanatics, whose sole agenda will be to return the country to a time when women knew their place (i.e., in the kitchen and in the bedroom) and the good ole boys could run the country without interference from those with wombs or excessive pigmentation in their skins.
So much thanks is owed to Sandra Fluke for providing progressives with a new weapon with which to fight the new fronts that are opening up in the culture wars. Sometimes, it takes a woman of courage to remind the rest of us how easily freedom can be undermined without extreme vigilance.