A “Fluke” in the Religion vs. Birth Control Debate
Sandra Fluke is a third year law student at Georgetown Law. She is the former President of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. And last Thursday, she spoke before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in yet another phase of the ongoing debate between the rights of religious organizations and the rights of women who work for religious organizations to receive insurance coverage for birth control.
Sandra Fluke was originally asked to speak at a Feb. 16 hearing run by Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA). Issa denied her the right to speak, arguing that Fluke’s qualifications as a “reproductive rights activist” were not adequate for a hearing that specifically dealt with religious liberties and government accountability.
Unfortunately, this left no women scheduled to appear before the panel, and two of the female committee members walked out of the hearing in protest. In combination with a few other incidents that happened during the same week, Republicans were once again labeled as blatant sexists who wanted all women to end up barefoot and pregnant.
In response, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) set up her own congressional hearing to make sure that Fluke’s voice was heard. The entire thing was set up as a giant PR stunt to make sure that liberals in Congress could further entrench their own counter narrative against that of the Catholic Church. Pelosi even said as much during the hearing, as CNS News reported. Pelosi said in her opening remarks that “[Fluke] understands that this issue that we’re discussing is a matter of women’s health, plain and simple.”
And thus, using the full power of the media bully pulpit, Fluke spoke before the nation. So why don’t we take a moment to break down her speech? (Thanks to WhattheFolly.com for the transcript.)
Over half of the content from her speech consists of personal stories about the horrible situations faced by women at Georgetown Law who were denied coverage for birth control. After all, the use of personal stories (which may or may not always be true) is a tried and true liberal tactic. It appeals to a human’s emotional nature rather than reasonable inquiry, and is usually applied to controversial situations to drum up support. But unless the individuals’ stories can be separately verified, which in this case they have not, they can’t be used as real factual evidence.
However, Fluke does make some points in her speech that we can actually discuss here to some degree.
We, as Georgetown LSRJ, are here today because we’re so grateful that this regulation implements the non-partisan medical advice of the Institute of Medicine.
Fluke refers here to recommendations from a July 2011 study released by the Institute of Medicine, the medical arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study is hardly non-partisan. It was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services for the specific purpose of investigating already-existent Affordable Care Act regulations. It says in the study brief: “…the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) charged the Institute of Medicine (IOM) with reviewing what preventive services are important to women’s health and well-being and then recommending which of these should be considered in the development of comprehensive guidelines.”
While many of the preventive measures listed are actually helpful – problems like gestational diabetes and cervical cancer are very nasty indeed – the study has no choice but to assume the inherent bias of the ACA, that the government should mandate preventive services coverage in the first place. It would be the same fallacy if I, wanting everyone in the country to play video games, commissioned a study to find the best gaming strategies, and then used the findings to mandate that everyone play video games because the study said there are some great strategies for playing them.
I attend a Jesuit law school that does not provide contraceptive coverage in its student health plan. And just as we students have faced financial, emotional, and medical burdens as a result, employees at religiously-affiliated hospitals and institutions and universities across the country have suffered similar burdens.
Many of the stories in Fluke’s speech revolve around this idea as well. Student health insurance plans offered by Georgetown do not cover contraception. Female students are unduly burdened and deserve redress in the form of coverage for contraception. She extends this assumption of burden to employees of other Catholic institutions.
Georgetown’s “Premier Plan” health insurance is mandatory for all full-time students. That would be a burden if it weren’t for the fact that Georgetown allows students to apply for a waiver so long as the student has a health insurance policy that meets a few basic coverage requirements. Further, Georgetown openly encourages its students to read the list of Exclusions and Limitations before signing up for the student plan.
Fluke and other students could have shopped around for a competitive policy that did cover contraception and waived their Georgetown-mandated insurance policy. The fact that they didn’t means that they willingly accepted the terms of the insurance policy offered by Georgetown – a basic contract that any law student should understand.
The students were not trapped by some mandated system as she would have us all believe. It is still possible in the United States for employees to chuck their employer-provided coverage and seek alternative private policies in a similar fashion – at least, it was before the ACA changed the insurance market. In a few years, it will become much harder to do so.
Without insurance coverage, contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school. For a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships, that’s practically an entire summer’s salary. 40% of the female students at Georgetown Law reported to us that they struggle financially as a result of this policy.
I don’t know where Ms. Fluke and her fellow students get their contraception, but I think they’re being scammed.
The masters of family planning at Planned Parenthood provide a great deal of information on a wide range of contraceptive methods. The most expensive methods of birth control per year found on their website, the NuvaRing and the Ortho Evra patch, cost a maximum of $80 a month – roughly $960 per year. Those do get close to the $3000 mark over three years, but remember that this is the maximum price – both those products are available at much lower rates if one takes the time to shop effectively.
These aren’t even the most effective methods of birth control – Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) and Birth Control Implants (Implanon) both cost more up front, but last multiple years, cost much less over time as a result (a maximum of $83 and $266.67 per year, respectively), and are more effective at preventing pregnancy. The irony is that people who use NuvaRing or Ortho Evra are paying more money for less effective drugs.
There are certainly some drug reactions that prevent certain patients from using certain methods of birth control, but these are not the norm. The truth is that the average woman has a wide range of affordable methods of chemical contraception at her disposal – and most cost nowhere near $1000 a year.
If she is only using birth control for pregnancy prevention and not for other medical reasons, she could just go for the budget item and use condoms at $1 a shot. As Craig Bannister at CNS News points out, $3000 over three years for condoms would mean that Ms. Fluke would have to have sex approximately 2.74 times per day to use that many condoms. If that really were the case, chemical contraception would definitely be cheaper and would still fit within the budget of most graduate students.
And her male partners would probably appreciate it as well, because as Derrick Comedy so humorously informs us, condoms feel weird.
Ultimately, the arguments Ms. Fluke made were exactly what we could expect from a “reproductive rights activist.” While I do sympathize with the stories she brings forward – in particular, the woman who lost an ovary to polycystic ovarian syndrome – these are all situations that fall outside of the norm. The actual evidence she brings forward is shoddy at best and deceptive at worst.
Her reasoning distracts from the problem originally investigated by Darrel Issa’s committee – that religious institutions should not be forced to provide insurance coverage for birth control to individuals who are merely using the drugs for their recreational purpose. Ms. Fluke seemed to resent Georgetown for maintaining that position in its insurance policy. “We refuse 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 that choice simply because we are women.”
Tina Korbe’s response on Hot Air to the above statement is far better than any I could come up with as a man.
Ms. Fluke, I resent that you think women are incapable of controlling themselves, of sacrificing temporary pleasure for the sake of long-term success. You make us sound like animals, slaves to our instincts and able to be used, but we’re better than that. We’re persons, equal to men in dignity and love.
Since the break of this story, there have been several developments (including the rise in popularity of my TCC colleague Angela Morabito’s excellent response to Ms. Fluke). The most significant development, in my view, is the resurfacing of a Feb. 19 Washington Post article covering Ms. Fluke, which reveals that she has a long history of liberal activism and specifically went to Georgetown to oppose the school’s Jesuit policies. This new information allows me to examine another section of her claims: “Many of the women whose stories I’ve shared today are Catholic women. So ours is not a war against the church. It is a struggle for the access to the health care we need.”
There is a stark difference between a movement that is organically developed and an artificially generated one. This new information about Ms. Fluke suggests that the only reason this issue was raised at Georgetown was because Ms. Fluke attended the school in order to raise it. A brief check of the Law Students for Reproductive Justice website reveals that the Georgetown University chapter of LSRJ isn’t even afilliated with Georgetown University or the Student Bar Association. Though she may have genuinely converted some students to her cause, the motivation for their efforts appears to lie solely with her – essentially a Georgetown outsider – and her long history of opposition to the teachings of the Catholic church on contraceptives.