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Sandra Fluke Campaigns For Women's Reproductive Rights

October 25, 2012 1:16 p.m.


Sandra Fluke, Georgetown Law graduate.

Related Story: Sandra Fluke Campaigns For Women's Reproductive Rights


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. A Georgetown University law student became a reluctant national celebrity earlier this year in a very odd way. She was shut out of an all-male congressional hearing on birth control access, and then she was insulted on air by a national talk show host. Considering how the year started, Sandra Fluke has emerged strong and energized. She's touring the country as key speaker at events sponsored by planned parenthood, aimed on reproductive rights and to get out the vote. Welcome.

FLUKE: Great to be in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: If you could, remind us of that hearing at which you tried to testify in February. It was the house oversight and government reform committee chaired by San Diego's Darryl Issa.

FLUKE: That's right.

CAVANAUGH: Why was it convened?

FLUKE: It was a hearing to talk about the affordable care act's contraception policy, which is not about government funding of contraception, but is about the requirement that insurance that women pay for with their own money, their own premiums, cover all of the medication that they need, including contraception. And what I had hoped to share that day in front of chairman Issa's committee was to discuss what this meant for women, and what the impact would be, and to share the stories of women on my campus at Georgetown who didn't have affordable access to contraception and what that had meant for many of them, folks like a new mom who needed that prescription to avoid becoming pregnant again too soon, which would be dangerous for her and any child she would carry, and also a friend who needed it to present cysts from growing on her ovaries. And when she didn't have it, ultimately had to have one of her ovaries removed.

CAVANAUGH: And you did not get a chance to tell the committee that. What happened? What was the reason that you were not allowed to testify?

FLUKE: Chairman Issa determined that my testimony was not appropriate. And instead of hearing anyone testify on behalf of the women who would be impacted by this policy and on that first panel instead of hearing from any women at all, he heard from five male leader, religious leader, and it's entirely appropriate to have a conversation about the religiously affiliated institutions that were involved. But he really defined the conversation very narrowly and excluded women's voices. And that's what was so problematic about that hearing and one of the reasons that I really encourage folks from San Diego to get out the vote this November and to put their vote behind Jerry Tuttleman who will be a much more progressive voice and will stand with women rather than Darryl Issa. I'm also in town to speak about Scott Peters campaign, which is a really important congressional race here. And he is going to be an amazing Congressman and leader who absolutely will stand with women. I think people may not realize how extreme Brian Bilbray's record has been in DC. I hear that he uses a lot of moderate language when he's here in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk to you in just a moment or two about the political aspects of this, and how it has morphed into this gigantic political issue. I do want to take you back for just one more minute to the point at which Rush Limbaugh talked about you and then came the slur and his equating asking insurance companies to cover contraceptives as wanting to get paid for sex. Now, despite all the support you got at the time, you got a call from President Obama, was it personally hurtful to be the target of that slur?

FLUKE: You know, I think it was personally hurtful for a lot of women in this country, and a lot of men who care about them. For me as an individual, I tried to see it as not really being about me because they didn't know me and know anything about me. I hadn't testified about myself or -- and to see this as an attempt to silence women and to silence women from speaking out about these topics. And that's one of the reasons that I'm here to speak at the planned parenthood action fund rally is to encourage women here in San Diego and across the country to claim their voices and be willing to talk about the healthcare aspects that are so important to them.

CAVANAUGH: As you mentioned, the people who did get to testify at that hearing that you were not allowed to say anything at talked about the fact that having to offer birth control coverage for Catholic universities for instance that don't necessarily support -- don't want people to be using birth control, that is somehow challenging their first amendment right, their religious freedom. What is your argument against that?

FLUKE: I think there's a few things that are important for folks to upon. The affordable care act does not require the religiously affiliated institutions to provide any funding for contraception. It's purely from women's premiums and the insurance company.

CAVANAUGH: It's the insurance company's coverage.

FLUKE: Right, it's not the religious institutions' money that's involved. And in terms of the first amendment, legally, the current state of the law is that it's not a violation of the first amendment. I'll not go into all of the supreme court precedent.


CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with a law school graduate here, so I have to watch myself! Let me take it down to the personal though, you're a woman in your 20s. How are your friends and younger women reacting to what has become a national conversation about birth control and abortion?

FLUKE: Well, I'm actually 31. But I hear about women from all ages about how important this is to them, and how shocked they are by what we're seeing in 2012. How shocked they are that we have repeated attempts to defund planned parenthood at the federal level. And federal funding has not gone to abortion in decades unless it's rape, incest, or the life of a am with. So they're shocked that we're trying to take away funding from breast cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings, and that we have legislation cosponsored by Mr. Ryan that Mr. Bilbray voted for to make distinctions about which survivors of sexual assault can have access to the healthcare that they need, and we're really reminded that in the wake of Mr. Her dock's comments in Indiana.

CAVANAUGH: The Senate candidate in Indiana just a day or so ago said the right of a woman who was raped to choose abortion -- actually a pregnancy resulting from a rape was God's will. And of course earlier than that, we had Todd Akin in Missouri talking about a legitimate rape that doesn't lead to pregnancy. Where do you think that this is coming from? It wasn't that long ago this was not a political hot button. Certain issues about reproductive rights seem to be issues that were settled between Republicans and Democrats.

FLUKE: It's really stunning when we're seeing folks like Mr. Ryan and Murdock that even in a case of sexual assault, the woman should not have the ability to end that pregnancy, that's a position that 80% of the American public disagrees with. So we really right now have elected officials who are very much out of step with what the public is looking for on these issues and are in a very extreme place. And that's why we have to send a very clear signal this November that the unprecedented number of bills restricting women's access to healthcare in the House of Representatives over the last two years and in many state legislatures is absolutely unaccept, not what the women in this country deserve, and we're not going to stand for it.

CAVANAUGH: Sort of on a deeper level, you've been in the middle of this storm so I know you probably thought about this a great deal, where do you think this particular conservative edge is coming from? Is it from people who feel that their voices and their values have not been recognized by the larger society, and they feel as if they're having a liberal or progressive attitude shoved at them?

FLUKE: Well, I think that these are issues that are very personal for all of us and that we have deep emotional reactions to. Certainly survivors of sexual assault have had many reactions to these types of comments. And anyone who's had to make a decision about whether to have an abortion or anyone who feels passionately against them, these are very emotional, very deep issues. But I think that really counsels us that the best course is to leave them to each woman and her family and her doctor, and if she chooses, her religious leader because they are so complex. And a one size fits all policy is not the approach we need. So that's where my concern comes from. When folks with deeply held beliefs are imposing them upon others. Of

CAVANAUGH: Planned parenthood is sponsoring the rally in downtown San Diego tomorrow you'll be speaking at. Planned parenthood seems to be the target of a lot of political anger and misinformation. Is the existence of planned parenthood, is the organization actually threatened?

FLUKE: Oh, I think they're working very hard to ensure they can continue to provide services to women. But Mr. Bilbray has voted repeatedly in the house of representatives to defund planned parenthood, and that's about limiting women's access to comprehensive healthcare. They're very much under attack. And we can see in Texas what the results of that have been. Texas has chosen to limit federal funding to planned parent parenthoods. So it's a real concern because millions of American women rely on them for all forms of healthcare, and men as well. Just sitting in the Greene room just now, other divests were sayingly oh, well, I needed to go to planned parenthood. And we sort of all know someone who has. But this rally tomorrow, it's at Balboa Park at sixth and Laurel in the southeast corner of the park at noon. And it's about more than just protecting planned parenthood. This is the action fund rally. And they have been at the forefront of standing up for all of us on protecting our access to the healthcare that we need so many of us are able to be blissfully unaware at times of what's happening in the state legislatures and in Congress, and planned parenthood action fund is that watchful eye to help to protect our fundamental rights and ensure that we'll have access to the healthcare that we need.

CAVANAUGH: You speak about blissfully unaware, and I'm sorry that I threw you back into your '20s when you're gloriously 31!

FLUKE: That's okay, that's fine!

CAVANAUGH: A lot of people have said the women whose rights are most at risk here are younger women who need access to various sorts of reproductive services, and yet where are they? So what have you found in your touring around the country? Where are they?

FLUKE: Well, I think that young women are getting really active about these issues, and young men as well. This year has been just a wake-up call to all generations about how much is at risk, and how important this election is going to be from the presidential ticket to the congressional tickets. The entire ticket. And so I'm manager from a lot of them that they're very concerned about these things, and they're getting out there. Sometimes it's just that their activism is expressed in different ways. They're on social media and things like that. So no one should be alarmed that any generation is not stepping up, but right now, all generations need to be reporting for duty on this. And we all need to be speaking out and using our vote to make sure our voices are heard.

CAVANAUGH: If indeed 80% of people as you quoted earlier do not agree with some of the more extreme positions that are being spoken about in terms of reproductive rights and birth control and abortion, then why are some political polls so close? Why are the politicians Espousing these particular yards doing well, seemingly?

FLUKE: I think that unfortunately too many of us have not been paying close enough attention. And we make it too hard in this country for everyone to have the information that they need about what's happening in the legislatures about these extreme bills that we literally had a bill in the House of Representatives this year that said that a hospital could allow a woman to die if she needed an abortion to save her life, and the hospital didn't want to provide it. That's a staggering piece of legislation. And most of us are not aware that that happened and that representative Ryan cosponsored it. And Mr. Bilbray voted for it. And so I think that that's why some of the polls don't always reflect this reality, and that's why so important we have to get out the vote this November and make our voices heard. And it's great here in California we can vote early. So we can do it absolutely today.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I of course knew why you're here, get out the vote was a very political rally. I have tell you I didn't expect quite such a partisan deluge to come from you all of a sudden. And let me just explain that too. Because I know you've been campaigning for President Obama and that you are working very hard to get the people that you think are right in office. But I wonder, don't you find it sad in a way that this whole issue of reproductive choice and women's health has become so politicized?

FLUKE: You know, I actually -- when I was first sort of thrust into the public spotlight, I decided that I wanted to remain nonpartisan. And I didn't speak out on behalf of any candidates, I didn't do any partisan events for several months. And during that time, I thought the most effective thing that I could do was speak about women 'health from a nonpartisan point of view, speak about a lot of other social justice issues that mattered to me and focus on what was the right policy. And that was this spring, and I just found that day after day, there was just more news from Republican leaders on why they were wrong on these policies. And I eventually just gave up because I thought that, you know, it doesn't seem like they're listening, it doesn't seem like they're hearing especially young women's voices on things like fair pay, on the violence against women act, on all of these reproductive concerns. And I decided the most effective thing I could do was send a strong message through our election. That's why I decided to become active campaigning for candidates because that was not my original intent. But unfortunately I think a very extreme movement is in the leadership of the Republican party right now. And that doesn't mean that every Republican feels that way. I think many, many don't. And that's the problem, that we have this really extreme hold on the leadership right now.

CAVANAUGH: One last short question to you. Do you see politics in your own future?

FLUKE: Oh! I get asked that sometimes. I think that's something I would think about some day, but it's not what I'm focused on right now. Right now I'm just focused on this election, are and the issues and concerns that I care about.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you'll be speaking at a rally at 6th and Laurel at noon tomorrow, Friday. What else is going to be happening there?

FLUKE: I think it's a great opportunity for folks to come out and learn more about some of the things that we've been talking about. If you're shocked to hear some of the legislation that I've described, are the rally is a great place to get more information about that, to find out more about which candidates have which stances, and it needs to be detailed about particular candidates. And the action fund has a great website,, where folks can check out which candidates are endorsed by the planned parenthood action fund which is a nonpartisan group that takes a look at each candidate's platform and makes sure they're going to have the right vote when is it comes to women's health. Of

CAVANAUGH: It's wonderful to meet you. Thank you so much for coming in.

FLUKE: Thank you.