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Law Student Makes Case For Contraceptive Coverage

Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, testifies Thursday about contraceptives and insurance coverage during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Alex Wong
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Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student at Georgetown University, testifies Thursday about contraceptives and insurance coverage during a hearing before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Congress is in recess this week, but that didn't stop House Democrats from holding a hearing to take testimony from a Georgetown law student who was barred from testifying in last week's hearing about President Obama's policy on contraceptives, health insurance and religiously affiliated organizations.

That hearing drew fire from supporters of the administration's approach for featuring an all-male panel to start, followed in the afternoon by a second panel that included two women opposed to mandatory coverage of contraceptives by insurers.

Somewhat ironically, Sandra Fluke, who has become the poster child for the Democrats since she was not permitted to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, would likely not be affected by the policy as a member of a student, rather than an employer-provided health insurance plan.

Even more ironic: Georgetown already offers contraceptive coverage as part of its employee health plans.

But none of that stopped her from giving the handful of Democrats present, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a rousing lawyer-like defense of why failing to cover contraceptives is unfair to women.

"Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school," she said. "For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that's practically an entire summer's salary."

And the policy has hurt not just those who want the pill to prevent pregnancy, she said. One friend — a lesbian — needed oral contraception to control ovarian cysts.

But while the Georgetown plan includes a medical exception, her friend never got the medication. "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 said.

She eventually stopped taking the medication when it became too expensive, grew a cyst "the size of a tennis ball," and "had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result," Fluke testified.

And when others ask what she expected when she chose to attend a Jesuit university, Fluke replied that she and her fellow women law students:

"[R]efused to pick between a quality education and our health, and we resent that in the 21st century anyone thinks it's acceptable to ask us to make this choice simply because we are women."

The GOP presidential candidates, meanwhile, continued to tangle with the issue during their debate in Mesa, Ariz., Wednesday night.

The crowd booed when CNN moderator John King asked the candidates about their position on birth control, but all were willing to engage, though not on the exact question asked.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich turned the issue back on President Obama, accusing him of having voted, as a state senator in Illinois, for a bill to "protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortions." The story is a lot more complicated, but a very similar claim, in fact, earned a "false" rating from the fact-checking website PolitiFact in 2008.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, continued to hammer at the president's policy on contraceptive coverage, which he correctly pointed out would include "birth control, sterilization, and the morning-after pill. Unbelievable," Romney added.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who earlier said he would talk about the "dangers of contraception," said in his opinion the problem is that too many children are being born into one parent families. "How can a country survive if children are being rasied in homes where it's so much harder to succeed economically?"

Finally, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, an OB-GYN, said the problem isn't really birth control at all. "The pill is there and, you know, it contributes maybe, but the pills can't be blamed for the immorality of our society."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie Rovner