Google "Sandra Fluke" and you will find hundreds of news stories either praising or demonizing the young Georgetown law student for speaking out about the need for women to have insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Behind all that buzz is a lifelong United Methodist who said growing up in the church taught her to speak out for others who need help, "even if that wasn't a popular thing to do."
The Rev. Richard Fluke, Sandra's father, is a part-time licensed local pastor who shares the pulpit at Tatesville United Methodist Church in Everett, Pa., with two other pastors. Both he and his wife, Betty Kay, are proud of their daughter.
"We were excited that she would be able to share the very compelling stories of her friends who need contraception for medical purposes," the Rev. Fluke said.
The law student was thrust into the public spotlight after her testimony at a Congressional hearing drew sharp criticism from popular talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who called her a "slut" and a "prostitute."
Fluke spoke to the House of Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform on Feb. 23. She said she was asked to testify after a staff member heard her speaking at a news conference with Catholic Students for Women's Health.
The students spoke out in support of the Obama administration ruling on a provision of the 2010 health-care law that would require church-affiliated employers to cover contraceptives and other preventive services in their health insurance plans. After the charges of violating religious liberty Obama offered a compromise. religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals will not be forced to offer contraception coverage to their employees. Insurers will be required, however, to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the ruling was a violation of religious liberty.
"If an institution chooses to enter the public sphere, our Constitution requires that the institution abide by the same laws as everyone else, and that the employees and students of those institutions be protected just like other citizens." - Sandra Fluke
"At Georgetown University, I am surrounded by women who are impacted by the lack of contraceptive coverage on our student insurance. This is a problem women on campus talk about regularly because it affects so many of us on a regular basis," Fluke said, in an interview with United Methodist News Service.
"We have been fighting to change this policy for decades. When you hear that your friend has lost an ovary because she couldn't afford the contraception she needed to prevent ovarian cysts, or that a student needs contraception to correct a hormonal imbalance and prevent frequent debilitating seizures, how can anyone not feel strongly about a law that would help those women?"
Limbaugh called her statement a request to be "paid to have sex." He spoke about her on his talk show Feb. 29 and March 1. At one point he said, "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
Limbaugh, also a United Methodist who is a member of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau, Mo., did not respond to questions emailed to him from United Methodist News Service.
'Shocked and hurt'
Fluke said she was "shocked and hurt" by Limbaugh's comments, but she recognized the slurs as an attempt to silence her and other women.
"I was also hurt when some conservative Christian leaders downplayed how inappropriate it was that I was attacked in that way. I thought they would stand firm and say that those attacks were not a model for how persons of faith should conduct themselves when debating public policy."
Though Limbaugh did apologize to Fluke on March 5, she said his apology "didn't change anything."
In his apology, Limbaugh said his "choice of words was not the best." According to news reports, several advertisers have pulled their ads from "The Rush Limbaugh Show" because of his statements about Fluke.
"That statement was issued when he was under pressure from sponsors who were withdrawing their support and from radio stations that no longer wanted to air his radio program and provide him a platform to express those views," said Fluke.
Fluke said she has received hundreds of letters of support, including a phone call from President Obama.
"I thought it was very kind of him to do," she said. "I was very honored to speak with him and touched by his concern for me and my family."
Support for Affordable Heath Care
The United Methodist Church supports the rights of men and women to have access to "comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS" (2008 United Methodist Book of Discipline, Social Principles, 162V).
The church has also spoken out in support of health-care reform.
Rush Limbaugh, you can't be serious!
In his blog "Be Encouraged," Iowa Area Bishop Julius C. Trimble takes the radio host to task for his inflammatory comments that fly in the face of Wesley's request to "do no harm."
"I think it's very important that the public understand that people of faith support the Affordable Care Act Contraception Regulation and other laws that help women access comprehensive reproductive health care," Fluke said.
In a column by Jim Winkler, top executive of the denomination's social action agency, he writes, "Just because someone says their religious liberty is being infringed upon does not make it so. Just because the Catholic hierarchy says that birth control is a sin against God does not make it so.
"Contraception benefits society. It reduces the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, reduces the need for abortions, and assists families to plan the number and spacing of their children."
Fluke said the current regulation does not require religiously-affiliated employers to contribute any money toward insurance coverage of contraception. Religiously-affiliated universities do not contribute to student insurance, and the regulation does not apply to houses of worship, she pointed out.
"If an institution chooses to enter the public sphere, our Constitution requires that the institution abide by the same laws as everyone else, and that the employees and students of those institutions be protected just like other citizens," she said.
Even though her private life was publicly invaded, Fluke said she encourages women to share their concerns about reproductive health policies. Sharing concerns means others will also care about those policies, she said.
"Building that support is how we can bring about increased access to women's reproductive health care together."
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].