Life after Limbaugh

An interview with Sandra Fluke

When she was invited to testify before Congress on the issue of contraception, Sandra Fluke couldn’t have predicted the nation’s most prominent right-wing commentator would attack her character and set off a storm of media attention.

An interview with Sandra Fluke

When she was invited to testify before Congress on the issue of contraception, Sandra Fluke couldn’t have predicted the nation’s most prominent right-wing commentator would attack her character and set off a storm of media attention.

A proponent for the coverage of contraception under institutional insurance plans—even those of religiously affiliated institutions, of which her school is one—Fluke spoke to Congress arguing for just such a private mandate. Her comments on the charged issue led the conservative-leaning radio host Rush Limbaugh to accuse Fluke of being a “prostitute,” “slut” and wanting “you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”

Sandra Fluke was honored by Planned Parenthood at a gala in March.
COURTESY OF Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon
Sandra Fluke was honored by Planned Parenthood at a gala in March.

Having possibly the oppo-site intended effect, Limbaugh’s comments have catapulted Fluke and her message into the international media spotlight, providing a forum of discussion for her message of women’s rights benefits.

The Georgetown law student was in Portland last month being honored at a Planned Parenthood dinner, where the Vanguard was able to meet with her and discuss juggling work, press attention and life behind the media spotlight.

Vanguard: Since the gala dinner for Planned Parenthood was closed to press and public, could you give me a rundown of how it went and what it was like for you?

SF: It was an honor to be recognized at the Planned Parenthood dinner last month, especially by an organization that has done so much for women and families, led by women I have unbelievable respect for. The staff of Planned Parenthood have faced personal attacks as I have and worse, just for providing essential healthcare to women. I was humbled to be honored by them.

VG: What has this whole experience been like for you, beginning with your testimony in Congress, Limbaugh’s comments and the ensuing media attention? How has is it affected your life as a student, and how have you been able to balance graduate school and worldwide media attention?

SF: It’s an understatement to say that this experience has been surreal and certainly not easy. But it has allowed me to make my voice and the voices of millions of Americans heard on issues that are critical to the health of women, their partners and families, and our larger economy. I hope that my refusal to be silenced has shown other young people that it’s important to stand up for what you believe in and not back down when these types of personal attacks come your way. 

It has made my last semester of law school quite different than I ever could have imagined, and it has made my schedule even more hectic. But I hope to continue to have a voice in this and other policy debates affecting women and families, and I feel proud to have helped shine a light on such an important issue.

VG: Why did you feel the need to take the issue of contraception to Congress?

SF: Prior to law school, I worked on a variety of women’s health issues, and I have dedicated much of my time in law school to advocating for access to affordable contraception, so I have been active on these issues for a long time.

When I was invited to testify before Congress, I spoke on behalf of my friends and fellow students at Georgetown because I believed it was important for Congress to hear the stories of those who would be impacted by this regulation.

As I made clear in my testimony, I was there to share the stories of students I know who have shouldered the burden of not having contraception covered by our student insurance plans. Their experiences have been heartbreaking and are the most powerful evidence for why these campuses need to change their policies.

VG: Obviously this issue of contraception is extremely relevant and important to the student community; could you give some thoughts on how the struggle is going? What have been the gains and losses thus far, and how helpful has the media attention been, if at all?

SF: I do think more Americans are paying attention to this issue and that the controversy that has ensued in recent weeks has energized a whole generation of young people, many of whom were active before this, who have no tolerance for such backward views toward contraception, health insurance coverage and women in the year 2012. I know many of them now feel compelled to become active, and I really hope that they do—whether it’s by speaking out, getting involved on their campuses or advocating for this in some way.

Unfortunately, there has been a concerted effort to also completely mislead the public about the administration’s contraception regulations and how birth control even works. It’s sad and appalling. That’s why I try to use every opportunity to speak out—whether in the media or at events—to separate fact from fiction and make sure people know the truth about contraception and why it’s so critical that all women have access to it.

VG: Now that some of the initial intensity of this whole ordeal seems to have blown over a bit, can you reflect on it at all? How has it affected you and what is in store for the future?

SF: Well, I still feel like myself, just with a lot more added to my plate. I have been and will continue to do media interviews that allow me to continue focusing attention on the issues I have always been outspoken on. I have had—and hope to continue to have—some incredible opportunities to speak to leading women’s organizations.

I have met many of the leaders who paved the way for my generation of women, and I have heard stories from so many Americans about how lack of access to contraception has affected them and their loved ones. So both the opportunities to connect with amazing people and the outpouring of feedback has been pretty extraordinary. But right now, I am focusing on graduating from law school and am weighing several exciting job opportunities.

VG: Finally, is there anything you have to say to the Portland or PSU community specifically? How important is it for students to get involved and speak up for their rights?

SF: It is unbelievably important for all young people who feel passionate about these issues to get involved and speak up for their rights. Find out how you can support efforts of students on religiously-affiliated campuses that may not be adopting contraception coverage in 2012, but instead delaying it until 2013.

Their students need coverage now, so find out what you can do to help them get it. There are so many ways to get involved, whether it’s just talking with friends or family over dinner or becoming more active on an advocacy level. But I hope this draws more young women—and all students—into the policy debate.