In the explosive few days since Rush Limbaugh out-smarmed even himself by calling a law student testifying before Congress a “slut” because she advocates for accessibility to contraception, eight ad sponsors of Limbaugh’s top-rated radio show have bailed. The question of what took them so long is valid, but this turning point in the conservative demagogue’s career is palpable.
What did it take for this sea change? The visual of a young-looking 30-year-old being rebuked in her request to tell a Congressional panel that her classmate’s ovary was removed because she could not afford to pay for contraception and her university – Georgetown – is a Catholic institution refusing to cover contraception. C’est la vie.
If you’re a woman over 20, it’s likely you’re aware that hormone therapy is the gold standard for “lady trauma.” A good chunk of my high school classmates were on birth control pills – not for the birth control, but because of debilitating cramps and bleeding associated with their menstrual periods. Apparently the Catholic Church believes it’s sinful to regulate abject pain. An interesting concept.
Regardless, the unusually vile rhetoric from Limbaugh last week finally hit a chord with everyday people who either were once young women using contraceptives, or have young women and girls as daughters and see first-hand the suffering they endure from dysmenorrhea. Sandra Fluke was one lone student speaking on behalf of many, and for that she has been called a “prostitute” and a “slut,” and urged to make pornographic tapes for the enjoyment of men because she “is having so much sex.”
Limbaugh is a shock jock. His charm (if you will) may be traced to increasingly insidious insults. Hearing this confessed narcotics addict (who is not in prison thanks in part to intervention by the American Civil Liberties Union, his nemesis, which filed briefs in support of stopping the government from accessing his private medical records) and Viagra smuggler (see above), trash someone who’s seeking better access to prescription drugs was irony supreme, but the more somber message here is this: Why is there so much inherent protection for his “right to free speech” even as he uses his to quash that of another?
Well, we know why. Limbaugh’s bellowing disregard for common decency inflames and invigorates the Joe Averages on the right, who wish they could say what he says. It hits at that nasty part of us who want to say really, really mean stuff, but we know it’s not right. Crossing that bridge to saying that nasty stuff is part and parcel of punditry. Limbaugh has long been a lightning rod for the right, although if the more pious Christian right knew that he – for example – used to play audio clips of vacuum cleaner sounds while discussing the abortion issue, some may take a second gander.
A woman in Boston was so outraged at Limbaugh’s gratuitous swipe at Fluke, she took to the Daily Kos and spilled her guts. Her 16-year-old daughter, who’d been bullied before over using birth control pills to combat extreme menstrual irregularities, was now inconsolable because word had spread that a nationally prominent radio figure said young women who take them are sexually immoral. Her tale is heart-breaking and one every parent needs to read.
So here’s what we need to decide, as women. Do we defer to a partisan dissection of the insurance-sponsored birth control issue, framing it as unnecessary government intrusion? That would require declaring as illegitimate any minimum standards of coverage set by the states licensing insurers to operate in their jurisdiction. That would be silly. It’d be equivalent to saying your employer hates kids and will not cover maternity care, and there’s nothing you can do about it; or, she abhors cigarettes and will not allow coverage for her employees in need of pulmonary treatments for lung ailments (even if those employees never smoked in their entire lives). Seriously. It would.
Or do we dispense with the moralizing and allow medicine to self-govern, as it has successfully for centuries? It’s clear that given statistics, which match up with private surveys, women of all political ideologies seek abortions, and more than 9 out of 10 fertile Catholic women use birth control, in an apparent violation of the Church’s teachings. That the Obama administration has cowered in the face of Catholic bishops at every turn is no comfort. I suspect a President Hillary Clinton would graciously thank them for their input and soundly ignore it. Water under the bridge, I suppose.
Women know women’s healthcare needs. Some of us feel compelled to shelve reality in order to avoid ruffling feathers or appearing to support “the other side.” But deep down in places they rarely talk about, every woman is aware of the unique nature of being the gender capable of reproducing – a feat made possible by an anatomical structure which often breaks down and causes undue suffering.
I suggest we do not want other women coming up behind our path to face the scorn and ridicule Sandra Fluke did when first she was denied the chance to speak to Congress on the importance of contraception because she was not an older white male in a robe (thanks, Chairman Issa), and then was soundly trashed by a loud-mouthed radio figure who turned her medical plea into a tawdry story about sexual promiscuity.
I suggest we use our voices now, through not only the ballot box, but through everyday interaction with others who believe Rush Limbaugh’s “right to free expression” is not the issue. The issue, of course, is a puzzlingly eroding set of rights for women seeking reproductive and medical autonomy. Let’s not party like it’s 1899.
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