reasoned thought for an age of uncertainty
Following Rush Limbaugh’s incendiary comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke this past week, a full-fledged response from women has begun to engulf the Republican Party. Beyond the public outrage at Limbuagh’s comments (discussed below), the Senate narrowly defeated an anti contraception bill by a vote of 51-48, and the anti-women week was punctuated by the resignation of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of five female Republican senators (there are 17 female senators). Snowe was the only Republican to vote with Democrats to kill the controversial anti-contraception bill.
In explaining her decision to drop from the Senate, Snowe cited the political brinkmanship in Washington, referring to several obstructionist priorities of the Republican Party, including the debt-ceiling debacle and the inabilty of the Senate to pass a budget. The budget battle, as you may recall, boiled down to a head-to-head fight about the rather meager federal fudning of Planned Parenthood, one of the top women’s health providers in the country. More recently, the women’s health controversy boiled over again after a Republican operative in the preeminent breast cancer foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, steered a decision to stop funding breast exams at Planned Parenthood, causing public outcry and leading to the operative’s resignation and a reversal of the decision.
Olympia Snowe’s resignation will hopefully mark a turning point in the Republican battle on women’s health. Snowe’s resignation comes amid increasingly reactionary statements about contraception by Rick Santorum and the REpublican leadership in response to the Obama administration’s announcement that, under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance providers would be required to provide contraception in their plans. There are a number of reasons why insurers should provide contraception, but the two main reasons are that it improves women’s health and that it is actually cheaper to provide contraception than to not provide it.
During the hearing on the Republic bill (the Blunt Amendment) to block contraception coverage, Sandra FLuke, a student at Georgetown Law and women’s health advocate, was refused an opportunity to speak by Republican Chairman Daryl Issa (CA). As a result, Democrats later held a separate hearing at which Fluke was invited to speak and presented impassioned testimony about the health needs of women and the role of contraception in that health care. Fluke testified that under the anti-contraception amendment, in many cases “a woman’s health [would take] a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.”
The initial Republican response to Fluke’s testimony came in the form of vicious statements by Rush Limbaugh, who said that a woman like Fluke who wanted health coverage for contraception was a “slut,” stating, “She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.” After his comments caused a firestorm, Limbaugh doubled-down the next day, stating “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 can all watch.”
It is hard to understand Limbaugh’s words as anything but a statement by a severely damaged person, and it is a very sad testimony about the Republican Party that Limbaugh is a leading figure in that movement and drew little rebuke. In fact, Limbaugh’s behavior–total disregard of social norms, irritability, aggressiveness, and lack of remorse–are classic signs that he probably suffers from a form of antisocial personality disorder. The response outside the beltway to the comments has been a near-universal denunciation, including calls for a boycott of advertisers on Limbaugh’s show, which has resulted in a number of advertisers’ fleeing. The Congressional leadership and presidential candidates have also distanced themselves from Limbaugh’s statements, though neither of the Republican presidential front-runners condemned Limbaugh’s bizarre statements. Mitt Romney, who was against the anti-contraception bill until his campaign staff told him otherwise, commented about Limbaugh’s comments, “It’s not the language I would have used,” while anti-contraception crusader Rick Santorum stated about Limbaugh: ”He’s being absurd. But that’s, you know-an entertainer can be absurd.” In contrast, Barack Obama took the opportunity to call Sandra Fluke and thank her for taking a public stand for his administration’s women’s health initiative and to tell her that her parents should be proud of her work (Limbaugh had said they should be ashamed).
Even further, the Republican Party’s increasingly hostile stance towards contraception and women’s health drew a response from the National Federation of Republican Women, who urged Republicans to move the debate back into a “legitimate discussion” and reaffirmed, “The NFRW is not opposed to contraception.”
After advertisers began to abandon his show and with the sustained political pressure, Limbaugh finally issued a statement along the lines of Mitt Romney, stating, “I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation,” and accompanied the statement with another political diatribe.
With only four female Republican senators remaining and presidential candidates who are unwilling (Santorum) or unable (Romney) to articulate a positive Republican position towards women’s health, Republican policies towards women remain mired in reactionary politics. Let’s hope women voters sent them a message.