Slut. Prostitute. These are words one expects to hear from an angry child. But directed towards a Georgetown University law student who testified before the United States House of Representatives? Say it ain’t so.
But these were the very words conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh used to describe Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who was invited by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, to testify regarding contraception. Representative Darrel Issa, a Republican congressman from California, had denied Fluke the chance to testify at an earlier hearing. Instead, a panel of five men testified on an issue of women’s health.
Following Fluke’s testimony, Limbaugh went on a rant on his radio show claiming that Fluke wanted the government to pay for her to have sex. He described her as a slut and a prostitute. He said that if his tax money would pay for their contraceptives then Fluke and other “feminazis” should post videos of their sex lives online.
Is this really what the political debate has come to? We’re arguing over contraception. Rick Santorum said in an interview that contraception is bad for women and society. What started as a fairly simple debate over whether or not the government has the authority to require employers to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception has suddenly blossomed into a far bigger cultural war.
I wrote last week about the dangers of Rick Santorum and his brand of social conservatism. But Limbaugh’s comments last week take this debate to a new level. The real debate is not about the morality of someone’s sexual choices. The real debate should be one of policy and what power the government has.
But the debate has become one of religious freedom vs. healthcare for all, one of sexual morality vs. women’s right to make decisions regarding their bodies. This debate happened years ago. Many women in the United States use birth control. The Obama administration is trying to make prescription contraceptives available to all women.
The right tries to make this debate about religious freedom, the idea that the government can’t force people to partake in actions that violate their conscince or religion. This argument held some water when the Obama administration was attempting to make religious institutions provide contraception. But after this bill was amended to require the insurance companies to provide these services, that argument is hollow.
The social conservatives of the country, who seem to make up a vast amount of the Republican party at the moment, have made this not about policy but about the morality of contraception. This is a serious misstep, and the Democrats are pressing their advantage.
Call women “sluts” and “prostitutes” all you want. Question the morals of those using contraception. Try and make it about religious freedom. But the right wing is making a serious mistake. A vast majority of women in the U.S. use or have taken birth control pills and the right’s statements, both from presidential candidates, politicians and pundits, seem to suggest that this is wrong, that the right does not care about the health of women.
This is 2012, not 1955. One would imagine that we’d moved past this kind of debate, that we’d left the past in the past. But, alas, we seem to be destined to drag issues that seem self-evident to many into the national debate.
The one bright side to all of this?
Even after issuing an apology, Limbaugh is still losing sponsors.
Josh Ernst may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org