Rush Limbaugh's ugly attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke have centered on the idea that she -- and other women who think birth control should be covered by health insurance -- “wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences.” For support, Limbaugh has referenced a CNS News blog post by CNS communications director Craig Bannister that's headlined “Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate.”
The blog post obsessed about the cost of condoms and postulated that $3,000 -- the amount Fluke said some female Georgetown students pay for three years of birth control -- could buy enough condoms to have “sex 2.74 times a day, every day, for three straight years.”
First of all, Fluke wasn't talking about condoms -- she was talking about birth-control pills. And when used as contraception, birth control pills must be taken regularly to be effective, regardless of how much sex the user is or isn't having.
As libertarian law professor Eugene Volokh noted on his blog:
The logic makes no sense. There's nothing substantive in common between being paid to have sex, and having contraceptives be provided by a health plan. (Would you call a man a gigolo because he uses a condom that he got for free from some university giveaway?) The allegation that somehow Ms. Fluke is “having so much sex” strikes me as misunderstanding the way birth control pills work: You have to take them all the time even if you're having sex only rarely, and even if you're having sex with only one person (I mention this because the implication seems to me that Ms. Fluke is being promiscuous).
And second, Fluke's testimony wasn't about sex. Much of her testimony was about women who take birth control for medical reasons, rather than as a contraceptive, including the story of a friend who was taking birth control to prevent cysts from growing on her ovaries and ultimately had to have an ovary removed:
A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome, and she has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown's insurance because it's not intended to prevent pregnancy.
Unfortunately, under many religious institutions and insurance plans, it wouldn't be. There would be no exception for other medical needs. And under Sen. Blunt's amendment, Sen. Rubio's bill, or Rep. Fortenberry's bill, there's no requirement that such an exception be made for these medical needs.
When this exception does exist, these exceptions don't accomplish their well-intended goals, because when you let university administrators or other employers rather than women and their doctors dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose are not, a woman's health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.
In 65 percent of the cases at our school, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms.
For my friend and 20 percent of the women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription. Despite verification of her illness from her doctor, her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted birth control to prevent pregnancy. She's gay. So, clearly, polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy for her.
After months paying over $100 out-of-pocket, she just couldn't afford her medication anymore, and she had to stop taking it.
I learned about all of this when I walked out of a test and got a message from her that in the middle of the night in her final exam period, she'd been in the emergency room. She'd been there all night in just terrible, excruciating pain. She wrote to me, “It was so painful I'd woke up thinking I'd been shot.”
Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result.
On the morning I was originally scheduled to give this testimony, she was sitting in a doctor's office, trying to cope with the consequences of this medical catastrophe.
Since last year's surgery, she's been experiencing night sweats and weight gain and other symptoms of early menopause as a result of the removal of her ovary. She's 32 years old.
Finally, Limbaugh claimed that Fluke and supporters of the Obama administration's policy “want the contraception free.” The idea that Fluke and other Georgetown students want something for nothing is silly.
The annual cost of Georgetown's student health insurance this year was $1,895.
These students are already paying plenty for their insurance. Asking that a health care product as ubiquitous as hormonal birth control be covered under an already costly plan is not unreasonable.