An in-depth look at Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who demands that health insurers pay for birth control, abortifacients, abortions, and sterilization procedures – even at religious institutions that object to such requirements on moral grounds.
Born in 1981, Sandra Fluke graduated from Cornell University in 2003 with bachelor’s degrees in (a) Policy Analysis & Management, and (b) Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. She subsequently worked with the New York City-based Sanctuary for Families, which provides services for victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking. Fluke also interned with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and a number of other organizations dealing with those two issues.
Prior to commencing her legal studies at Georgetown Law School in 2009, Fluke researched the Jesuit university’s health plans for students and found, to her dismay, that they did not cover birth control, abortifacients, or medical abortion procedures. Resolving that “I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care,” Fluke enrolled at Georgetown and then spent the next three years lobbying the school’s administration to change its policy on the issue. Also during her stay at Georgetown, Fluke worked as development editor of the Journal of Gender and the Law; served as president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice; was vice president of the Women’s Legal Alliance; and became affiliated with Amnesty International, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Georgetown Democrats.
Some congressional Democrats invited Fluke to speak at a February 16, 2012 hearing on the constitutionality of the “Obamacare” mandate requiring religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, charities, and other health and social-service agencies to provide “free” abortifacient pills, sterilizations, and contraception on demand in their insurance plans—even if doing so violated their own moral codes and the teachings of their churches. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), who chaired the hearing, did not permit Fluke to speak, on grounds that Democrats had submitted her name too late to be considered. Fluke stayed for the first few moments of the hearing, during which a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke, and then walked out in protest along with the Democratic women who sat on the committee.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) continued to push for Fluke to testify before a congressional panel. Maloney had ties to a progressive pollster, Celinda Lake, whose firm—Lake Research—had recently done work for both Maloney and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Lake also had conducted extensive polling which led her to conclude that if Republican opposition to insurance coverage for birth control could be framed as a “women’s rights” issue, Democrats could add significantly to their political support from female voters.
As a result of Maloney’s and Pelosi’s persistence, Fluke testified before an unofficial congressional hearing led by Pelosi on February 23, 2012. Identifying herself as “an American woman who uses contraceptives,” Fluke lamented that many women employed by religiously affiliated entities had “suffered financial, emotional, and medical burdens because of this lack of contraceptive coverage”; that “without insurance coverage, contraception can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school”; that “forty percent of female students at Georgetown Law report struggling financially as a result of this policy”; and that “this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.”
Six days later, radio host Rushâ€¨ Limbaugh disparaged Fluke on his program as a “slut” and a “prostitute” who “is having so much sex she can’t afford contraception,” and who “wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” After Limbaugh’s comments, President Barack Obama called Fluke to express his support for her. According to Fluke, the President “thanked me for helping to amplify the voices of women across the country … Beyond that, he also just wanted to express concern and make sure that I was okay, which I thought was very kind and I assured him I was.”
On March 3, â€¨Limbaugh posted a statement online in which he publicly apologized to Fluke for his “insulting word choices.” Appearing on ABC’s The View two days later, Fluke said that Limbaugh’s apology was insufficient. Limbaugh then apologized again, saying he had “acted too much like the leftists who despise me.”
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly reasoned that the “Sandra Fluke contraception controversy was manufactured to divert attention away from the Obama administration’s disastrous decision to force [Catholic] organizations to provide insurance coverage for birth control and the ‘morning after’ pill.”
In early March 2012, professors, staffers and students at Georgetown and other law schools signed a statement that “strongly condemn[ed] the recent personal attacks on our student.” One signatory was Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks, who had served from 2009-2011 as the Obama administration’s adviser to the undersecretary of defense for policy. Journalist Aaron Klein pointed out that yet another close Obama associate, John Podesta, was a visiting professor at Georgetown Law School during the Fluke controversy.
In addition to her views on insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients, Fluke also believes that health insurance policies should be required—on pain of legal action—to pay for sex-change operations. A Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law article which Fluke co-edited with Karen Hu lamented that because of widespread “ignorance and bias against transgender persons,” individuals “wishing to undergo the gender reassignment process frequently face heterosexist employer health insurance policies that label the surgery as cosmetic or medically unnecessary and therefore uncovered.”