Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh apologized Saturday for sexual slurs he made on the air about a Georgetown student who has become a public advocate for President Obama's new contraception coverage mandate.
Earlier this week he called Sandra Fluke, a third-year law student, a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying before Congress that employers should cover contraception, accusing her of wanting to "be paid to have sex" and even suggesting she should post sex videos online in return.
The comments sparked outrage and fed political tensions between Republicans and Democrats over the issue, prompting President Obama to call Ms. Fluke on Friday to thank her for speaking out. While Mr. Limbaugh had initially doubled down on his comments, he posted an apology on his website on Saturday, saying he didn't mean to personally attack Ms. Fluke.
"My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir," Mr. Limbaugh wrote. "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
But he repeated his charge that American taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for contraception — even though the dispute is over whether the administration can require Catholic employers to pay for it even though the church forbids artificial contraception.
"I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress," Mr. Limbaugh said. "I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities."
With both parties struggling to advance their message in an election year, Republicans call the administration’s order for employers to cover contraception for female workers an assault on the religious liberty while Democrats are framing it as a victory for women’s health.
Ms. Fluke became a public figure in the issue when Republican Rep. Darrell Issa refused to include her on a mostly-male panel of religious leaders who testified against the mandate before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Enraged, Democrats convened a special hearing for Ms. Fluke where she lamented that female students at Georgetown have to pay as much as $1,000 per year for contraception, which isn’t covered in the Catholic university’s student health plans.
When Mr. Limbaugh weighed in with his derogatory comments, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the committee, seized the opportunity to call on Mr. Issa to publicly condemn them.
"As chairman of the committee that first attempted to silence Ms. Fluke and prevent her from testifying, you are in a unique position to speak out now on her behalf and to join us in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, this very public and very malicious attack on all women who share her views," Mr. Cummings wrote.
But Mr. Issa sent back a scathing letter, blasting Mr. Cummings for ignoring vindictive rhetoric from members of his own party and blaming Democrats for creating a vitriolic environment.
"While your letter raises important concerns about these inappropriate comments and the tone of the current debate over religious freedom and Obamacare, I am struck by your clear failure to recognize your own contributions to the denigration of this discussion and attacks on people of religious faith," Mr. Issa responded in a letter on Friday.
Mr. Issa also said that Ms. Fluke isn’t the only women has has been verbally abused over the issue. At least one female witness at a recent hearing received "vulgar and threatening messages," and members of his own staff have been demeaned, he said.
"My staff, particularly female staff, have also been the subject of intense and disgusting accusations and insults — 'hag,' 'traitor,' and numerous references to anatomy have been among the milder expressions hurled over the phone," Mr. Issa wrote.
It’s still unclear whether Ms. Fluke's student health plan will be required to cover contraception, since the administration agreed to exempt Catholic universities, charities and hospitals from the mandate but hasn’t yet released a final rule.
But Ms. Fluke and other students are free to purchase outside health plans that do cover contraception, said Georgetown spokeswoman Stacy Kerr.
"Like most private universities, we require that students have health insurance; however, students are not required to purchase their insurance through Georgetown," she said. "Students are free to satisfy this requirement by choosing a health plan that includes coverage for birth control. This option is available to all students through third-party providers."
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