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April 17, 2012

Sandra Fluke: "Women are Not Going to be Silenced"

First, the Georgetown University law student was shut out of a congressional hearing on insurance coverage for contraception. Then, she was called a "slut" by Rush Limbaugh. Now, she talks to MC about being the subject of a national political firestorm—and whether she'll run for office someday. For more on the contraception debate, read "Why is Birth Control A Big Deal Again?"

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

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What's it been like to be at the center of all of this?

It's been pretty overwhelming, but what I try to focus on are the messages I've been getting from women and men across the country offering me their support and saying, keep going, you're doing good work, you're making a difference. And also the messages I've gotten from women about what contraception has meant in their lives and how it helped them with dire medical situations and helped them prevent pregnancies during times where it was very important that they do so. I set up an account where people can send those messages, standwithsandra@gmail.com.

What did you want people to take away from your testimony if you'd been able to give it that day?

I wanted them to hear about my friend who had polycystic ovarian syndrome and had a cyst grow on her ovaries because the insurance coverage was inadequate. She had a cyst the size of a tennis ball grow on her ovary and then had to have the entire ovary removed and has experienced since then the symptoms of early menopause. I wanted them to hear about the woman at Georgetown who had heard about the contraception policy and that's how she believed how Georgetown would treat all women’s health care, and that’s why she didn’t go to the doctor for STI testing or an examination when she was raped. And I want them to understand that that's the message that was being sent by a lack of contraceptive coverage, by not covering it the way other types of health care are required. I wanted them to understand that it says that women's health care is not a priority and is not important.

Given that you came at this from a policy perspective, did you expect that it was going to become so personalized?

No, to put it bluntly. What I expected was that there would be disagreement about my policy points, and I was prepared for that. That's totally appropriate and acceptable in this country and in this democracy. But I was not prepared for this level of personal attack. I don't think that anyone should feel prepared for that because it's never acceptable.

Why do you think Rush Limbaugh and the other conservative commentators who attacked you made it so personal?

This was a whole segment of our political commentators who thought this was appropriate rhetoric or an appropriate way to respond to a woman who petitions her government regarding serious public policy issues. We've seen this historically, right? This isn't new. We know that throughout history, this is one of the tactics that's been used to try to silence women when they speak up for their rights, especially their reproductive healthcare needs.

I was a woman who uses contraception, and when that's how he talked about me, he could have been talking about any of the millions of women who use contraception. And he didn't apologize to any of the other women about what he said about them either directly or by implication.

It was you speaking out about something that in Limbaugh's mind was unacceptable to speak out about.

It was about silencing me and all the women and men that support them across America, and it's clear to me from the events that have transpired since then that women are not going to be silenced.

Do you think there's a new kind of attention or anger about the attacks on women’s rights?

I do think something is happening. Of course these are issues that my friends and I have been concerned about for many years, and many women have been. But to the extent that this has brought more attention to what’s going on, that’s really helpful and I'm really glad to see American women and the men who support them paying attention to what's happening in their political process. And I hope that our generation lives up to the confidence [older women] have in us.

What's next for you? Could you imagine yourself running for office?

That's been suggested to me, though I don’t have any specific plans in that regard. Right now what's next for me is that I have a paper due next week!


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