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 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.

David Giffin :: Emory University :: Atlanta, Georgia :: @D_Giffin

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31 Responses

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  1. Frank
    Mar 07, 2012 - 06:35 PM

    Just finished reading every comment here. Most of them seemed genuine & relevant. Probably the one that contains the MOST relevance is shadi’s next to last one. In part, he said: ‘We don’t live in a vacuum’. Someone besides the end user, or insured, is paying for that coverage. The waters in THAT particular body are very murky, made so by persons Ms Fluke professes to aspire to…LAWYERS.

    And, it will be lawyers that figure it all out, aside from the ‘people’ shaping the political landscape.

  2. Shadi Sidarous
    Mar 07, 2012 - 06:13 PM

    To expose the hypocrisy of the liberal left, let’s change the subject ever so slightly. What if we weren’t talking about contraception, but instead infertility. A condition that requires tens of thousands of dollars for each treatment with no guarantee of results. Currently no part of the treatment is covered by insurance. The conservative stance remains consistent, it’s a personal matter that needs to be handled both morally and financially by the individual. Would the liberal response be consistent? That the condition is unfairly burdensome to towards the poor and should therefore be covered by insurance? I suspect not.

  3. Chris
    Mar 06, 2012 - 09:23 PM

    Lots of people on this site seem to be having a pretty great time nitpicking through the details of contraceptive pricing, speculating about Ms. Fluke’s personal life, shrilly arguing about personal responsibility. I feel like you’re missing the larger issue – on what planet does it make sense to allow an employer’s moral preferences select among health care choices for their employees? What other medical options are you willing to allow your employer to deny you, based on their private estimation of what’s right? Organ donations? Medical implants? Psychiatric medicine?

    Imagine for a moment a Catholic employee working in a social institution – a hospital, say, or a charity that receives public support – that was started and is run by Evangelicals, or Christian Scientists, say, or Jews or Muslims. Does the argument change any?

    Also, news flash – people have sex. Even people commenting on conservative blogs have sex. Reproductive health, including checkups, preventative care, contraception, obstetrics, surgery, etc. is all health care. Repeat: reproductive health is health care. We had that debate fifty years ago, its settled.

    • Shadi
      Mar 07, 2012 - 06:05 AM

      On my planet. The planet where you come to me for a job. A planet where I offer you a salary and benefits and you decide whether or not to accept them. There’s that pesky personal responsibility, rearing its ugly head again! A planet where if I don’t bring enough to the table, I risk losing good employees to my competitors. It’s called the free market system. It’s a planet with some government regulation, but where my freedom to decline morally objectional options, is balanced by your freedom to seek out plans that meet your needs.

      • Chris
        Mar 07, 2012 - 04:44 PM

        The laws regarding health insurance, as I understand them, are not there to allow employers to police the private lives of their employees to an arbitrary degree. They’re to protect employees who are making decisions about the health and well-being of their families. It’s very easy to imagine an unscrupulous employer disallowing any medical treatment that sounded expensive to him. I don’t see the conservative values, nor the Christian virtues, in forcing someone to shop for a new job at the moment they find out that a member of their family has a debilitating injury or serious illness.

        “Oh, we don’t support treatment for HIV, because that’s the result of a lifestyle choice.” “Oh, we don’t support treatments for obesity – that’s a result of your own choices.” “Oh, sorry, we don’t support palliative care – suffering can have a spiritual value.” I don’t get why you would think that allowing anybody else to make these kinds of choices for you and your family would be good in any sense. These can be deeply personal and life-changing decisions. The last person I would want to have a say in them would be an employer.

        Maybe you don’t imagine you or anybody you love ever being an employee? Or that the whole world will soon recognize that you’re right about everything – that there are no grey areas at all? Be assured, there are plenty of grey areas in health care choices – take a look at end-of-life issues, just for starters. And the number of ambiguous health care choices is only going to get bigger over time.

        So, I understand, you want to win this one argument, religious freedom, I get it, but I think if you were being honest with yourself you would admit that there are a lot more problems created by the kind of ‘moral objection’ clause you’re envisioning than are solved. That’s why it’s been this way with secular employers for so long, and why several states (notably Massachusetts under Governor Romney) signed similar laws that include such employers as Catholic hospitals.

      • Shadi Sidarous
        Mar 07, 2012 - 06:02 PM

        We’re not talking about changing the rules in the middle of the game. Insurance companies offer varying levels of coverage with a minimum level required by law. You think the employer really pays for the coverage? He doesn’t! He takes it out of your salary as part of the “benefits” package. A guy earning $50,000/yr with insurance would be making $60,000 without it. It’s a cost built in to salary. If your employers rates go up, he decreases your raise. None of this is static. We don’t live in a vacuum. The sooner people understand this, the sooner we can show the benefits of the lowering the minimums and increasing the choices we have.

      • Chris
        Mar 07, 2012 - 06:42 PM

        Well, if your argument is that removing birth control from insurance policies will reduce the cost, we have all learned now that the reverse is actually the case – if you deny birth control coverage, the resulting unintended pregnancies, child care, and yes abortions all end up costing much more. This is why insurance companies actually prefer to offer birth control coverage.

        In general, the argument of reducing the minimum coverage to reduce costs is not sound. Most people cannot say a priori whether they will one day need coverage for diabetes,or leukemia, or a specific form of cancer. Those people without coverage who find they need those things end up in the emergency rooms, and we all pay for their treatment.

        And most people use the minimum amount of coverage they need – no one has a tracheotomy for fun, say, or radiation treatments. Often where people try to cut is in preventative medicine, and this often increases overall costs.

      • Shadi Sidarous
        Mar 07, 2012 - 07:37 PM

        We are not talking about diabetes, leukemia or tracheotomies, nice try though. We are talking about contraception. If that were the only way to prevent births, there would be no discussion. It’s not. There are cheaper ways that, ironically, are not being offered to be covered by insurance companies. And I thought it wasn’t about birth control, but about the vast, innumerable women who use it to treat some sort of illness or condition. Or has that little red herring been put to bed? (Pun intended!)

    • Shadi
      Mar 07, 2012 - 06:14 AM

      As to last point – yes, people are having sex. Guys too. Should we not cover the prophylactics as well? It’s all reproductive health.
      No, it’s not reproductive health. It’s medical necessity vs. medical elective. I’ll assume you know the difference…think botox, nose jobs, breast augmentation.

  4. Mick
    Mar 06, 2012 - 05:36 PM

    I am relieved after reading several of the bio’s of you right wing bloggers on this site. I notice most if not all of you are from the South, Tennessee seems to be the mode. Thank God in heaven none of you came out of Prep, Gonzaga, Visitation or StoneRidge. My faith in those fantastic schools would have been shaken because I know such garbage could never have come from any one of those schools who teach men for others and my brothers keeper.

    • Conservative And Proud
      Mar 06, 2012 - 07:58 PM

      Generalize much?

      • Jared Cowan
        Mar 09, 2012 - 07:29 AM

        In CaP’s defense, there probably are a fair amount of church sponsored colleges in Tennessee, and not all of them are conservative, if my own alma mater was any indication. The University of the South Sewanee is commonly considered liberal and is supported pretty much by alumni and the Episcopal Church, from what I understand.

        To put it simply, Tennessee does have a reputation for being conservative and it’s not unjustified, but there are pockets of liberals in this state, from what I understand, though they are in the minority

  5. Conservative And Proud
    Mar 05, 2012 - 09:51 PM

    And if you don’t think blogs are newsworthy or an acceptable form of journalism, why are you here? Just askin’…

  6. Viagra Vinnie
    Mar 05, 2012 - 08:48 PM

    You’re quoting a BLOG not a WaPo article.

    And her words are pretty clear to me…she chose Georgetwnw DESPITE the fact that the insurance coverage did not include contracpetion.

    “I decided I was absolutely ,b>not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care…”

    • Conservative And Proud
      Mar 05, 2012 - 09:50 PM

      Uh, yeah, knowing that she would do everything she could to CHANGE the policy.

      • Marie
        Mar 06, 2012 - 03:57 AM

        I would like to think that most people who think they are witnessing an injustice would stand up and try to fix it. If not you then who?

      • Conservative And Proud
        Mar 06, 2012 - 02:30 PM

        That depends on whether or not it’s an “injustice.” To her, it is – but apparently she’s not Catholic. Yet she CHOSE to go to a Jesuit-run school.

  7. Viagra Vinnie
    Mar 05, 2012 - 07:09 PM

    What is the cost of being insured under the penumbra of Georgetown’s GROUP coverage versus going out and buying an individual policy that is not only in line with the basic Georgetown policy but has benefits supplemental to that policy as well? Well, the difference in cost for my family coverage, were I to “shop” versus maintaing my ESP overage is $2700…a MONTH,

    That’s a non starter of an argument.

    Secondly, the Congress is specifically PROSCRIBED by the plain language of 1A from exempting or immunizing a religious organization from anything. “NO LAW” means “NO LAW”. It is up to the courts to decide if a SECULAR/CIVIL law puts an undue burden on religion.

    The “sham” hearing was held by Issa in an effort to paint the Obama Adminstration as “anti-religion”. In point of fact, since the Adminstration issued a regulation that was directed at all insurers as co-equals, the regulation squares up perfectly with the original meaning of the Establishment Clause.

    • Conservative And Proud
      Mar 05, 2012 - 07:13 PM

      I agree that it wouldn’t be as cheap. Insurance is ridiculously expensive no matter where you go.

      BUT, the fact that she deliberately enrolled in this school to change this policy in particular taints her argument, IMO.

      • Viagra Vinnie
        Mar 05, 2012 - 07:59 PM

        She did not deliberately enroll in this school to change it’s policy. That’s blogoshpere BS…

      • Viagra Vinnie
        Mar 05, 2012 - 08:00 PM

        *its policy…sorry…

      • Conservative And Proud
        Mar 05, 2012 - 08:31 PM

        “Fluke came to Georgetown University interested in contraceptive coverage: She researched the Jesuit college’s health plans for students before enrolling, and found that birth control was not included. “I decided I was absolutely not willing to compromise the quality of my education in exchange for my health care,” says Fluke, who has spent the past three years lobbying the administration to change its policy on the issue. The issue got the university president’s office last spring, where Georgetown declined to change its policy.” – that’s from the Washington Post article. If she didn’t come specifically to Georgetown to change the policy, she sure was determined to do it while she was there. And with her background, it makes one suspicious…

    • Viagra Vinnie
      Mar 05, 2012 - 07:17 PM

      “It is up to the courts to decide if a SECULAR/CIVIL law puts an undue burden on religion.”

      That should read: It is up to the courts to decide if a SECULAR/CIVIL law puts an undue burden on religion whenever the law and religious practice are alleged to meet and conflict.

    • David Giffin
      Mar 05, 2012 - 10:48 PM

      Viagra Vinnie:

      First off, nice screen name. I appreciate the humor.

      Second off, your argument on the First Amendment is not founded in actual case law as decided by the Supreme Court. The Court has long held that free exercise exemptions under the law do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Further, the court has found that it is entirely possible for the state to place undue burdens on religion, and has heard hundreds of cases to this effect throughout its history (see West Virginia v Barnett, Sherbert v Verner, Wisconsin v Yoder, and McDaniel v Paty for a few examples).

      While it is true that some more recent cases have seen the court take a less active role and rather encouraged the legislative branch or the states to fix their own religious exemption problems (Lyng vs NACPA and Oregon v Smith were big ones for this), the problem here is that the Congress already restrained Federal activity when it passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law requires all Federal activity to conform to the Sherbert Test, which is a strict scrutiny standard of review that requires the government to not only prove that it has a compelling interest to act, but that its action is the least burdensome alternative. One could hardly argue that the government’s move was the least restrictive move in this case.

      I appreciate your argument, but it just doesn’t hold any water in this case.

  8. Conservative And Proud
    Mar 05, 2012 - 06:32 PM

    What a telling fact, that she was not REQUIRED to use the school’s health insurance, something she conveniently left out of the conversation.

    Good article, David.

    And as someone who has also lost an ovary due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, I can say that I’m still functioning just fine on one ovary. 😉

    • Ann NC
      Mar 07, 2012 - 12:55 PM

      Conservative and Proud– that is wonderful as a PCOS woman that you do not require birth control. However, not all of us are that lucky.

      I have PCOS and without “birth control pills” I would still have horribly painful and irregular periods, acne, and I would probably be bald.

      I am not sexually active so it is not like I am getting the benefit of contraception, the pills I take are purely for medical reasons. I have several other family members (it appears our PCOS seems to have some kind of genetic component to it) on birth control to help treat PCOS.

      • Conservative And Proud
        Mar 08, 2012 - 07:20 PM

        The Catholic church does not prohibit the form of birth control for use of medical conditions.

      • Conservative And Proud
        Mar 08, 2012 - 07:24 PM

        In addition, NO ONE is taking away your right to birth control. I think that’s important to keep in mind in this debate.

      • Conservative And Proud
        Mar 08, 2012 - 07:25 PM

        One more thing – (sorry for not combining these into one message!) – I am so sorry you have PCOS. It sucks, doesn’t it? I’ve been dealing with it for more than 10 years now. Hope that you are able to get some relief. I have found exercise to be the absolute best thing.


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