This semester, the university found its stance on contraception thrust into the national spotlight after conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh went after one of Georgetown’s own.
Third-year law student Sandra Fluke (LAW ’12) became embroiled in a political controversy after Limbaugh called her a “slut” and “prostitute” on his nationally syndicated radio show Feb. 29 and March 1. The previous week, Fluke had testified to the U.S. House of Representative’s Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in an unofficial hearing on issues regarding contraception and the affordability of birth-control.
“These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people,” Fluke said at the Feb. 23 hearing.
Under Georgetown’s current insurance plan, both undergraduate and graduate students can choose to use private health insurance or the university’s plan, which covers birth control for medical purposes but not for pregnancy prevention. Under a Department of Health and Human Services regulation announced earlier this spring, all religious institutions that offer insurance plans will need to cover contraceptives regardless of their purpose.
After her testimony, Limbaugh discussed Fluke’s stance on contraception, condemning her use of the pill.
“If we’re going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex … we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch,” Limbaugh said on his show.
“[Fluke] is having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth control pills that she needs,” he added the next day.
Following these comments, Fluke found herself at the center of a media firestorm stoked by election-year politicking.
President Barack Obama called her that Friday to extend his support, and Republican leaders, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), condemned Limbaugh’s comments.
University President John J. DeGioia issued a statement the same day that was hailed nationally as a call to civility.
“If we … allow coarseness, anger — even hatred — to stand for civil discourse in America, we violate the sacred trust that has been handed down through the generations beginning with our founders,” DeGioia wrote. “The values that hold us together as a people require nothing less than eternal vigilance. This is our moment to stand for the values of civility in our engagement with one another.”
Confronted with a public outcry and fleeing advertisers, Limbaugh issued an apology to Fluke on his website on March 3.
“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke,” he said.
Though the political attention she has received has died down, Fluke has remained vocal about the need for complete contraceptive coverage in the university’s health care plan. While speaking on campus April 16 in an event sponsored by the Lecture Fund and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, she reiterated the continuous need to push for contraceptive equality.
“It seems wrong to ask female students to choose between their health care and the quality of their education,” she said. “If Georgetown is the best school you got into or offers you the best career opportunities, why should you … have to not attend Georgetown and have to find somewhere else because of your health care needs?”
In light of the controversy, students and faculty from both sides of the issue have submitted letters to DeGioia asking for the university to take a stance.
DeGioia responded on Thursday with an email to the Georgetown community stating that he planned to take advantage of a one-year grace period offered in the HHS mandate.
H*yas For Choice President Kelsey Warrick (COL ’14) said she was disappointed with DeGioia’s decision, though she remains optimistic.
“I think the most respnsible decision would be to begin coverage next year … [But] at the end of the day, the school is going to have to begin coverage in 2013 anyway.”