IT'S BEEN A MONTH since Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified in Washington, DC, in support of a private insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage—and then found herself a household name after loutish pundit Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" (and worse) on AM radio. Fluke was in Portland last week to receive the first-ever "Care No Matter What" Award from Planned Parenthood at the organization's yearly gala.
The Mercury caught up with her about life after Limbaugh and why we need to keep talking about women's health.
MERCURY: How do you think your statement to the House and ensuing comments, especially Rush Limbaugh's famous "slut"-calling, affected the national reproductive rights discussion?
SANDRA FLUKE: The main thing is to refocus the conversation on women's health. People are becoming more concerned and aware that real women are affected by this policy. A lot of people don't know that birth control is a vital need for some women with health problems—it's more than just contraception. I think it's really helped re-shift the overall discussion.
You became a face for contraception rights over the course of a few days. What have you learned from being thrown into the public sphere so quickly as a leader in women's rights?
It's been overwhelming. I really haven't had enough time to reflect on it yet. I'm extremely heartened by the support I've gotten from people across the country. To have an issue previously viewed as controversial politics thrown into the media spotlight is really important, and I'm glad I could help get it to that point.
In your response to Limbaugh's apology, you said his attempt to silence you and other women using contraception was in vain. How will you stay involved with the national debate?
I'm going to try my hardest to graduate from law school. I'm also working with different media outlets to raise awareness for affordable health care benefits. I'm working on a campaign on campuses across the country, organizing with students to make sure that they know their university could change its contraceptive insurance coverage right now.
How has this experience influenced your view on mass and social media when dealing with political issues?
I'm disappointed that commentators have created a wealth of misinformation on this issue. People think women are just asking for a government handout, which isn't the deal at all. This is for people who already pay for private insurance and deserve total coverage. Also, a lot of commentators think contraception is still easy for women to attain, calling it much ado about nothing. Unfortunately, this is also wrong.
So what does this Planned Parenthood recognition mean to you?
I'm really touched to receive this award. It's also my first time at this gala, so I'm really looking forward to the entire event. Unfortunately I can't stay in Portland long enough to do much of anything, I'm actually flying out directly after the event tonight.
You're a busy lady. How are you balancing school and everything with your crazy schedule?
Not well! I'm really thankful to get some pro bono help from colleagues right now. We'll see how I manage...