Saturday, March 17, 2012

Debunking Sandra Fluke – Without Name-Calling

Recently, a Georgetown law student named Sandra Fluke made a statement before a panel of House Democrats, speaking in favor of the Obama administration’s decision to require insurance companies servicing Catholic institutions to completely pay for birth control coverage. Prominent radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Miss Fluke a "slut," sparking a firestorm of controversy.
It must be noted right away that calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” is disgusting, foolish and counterproductive, and Mr. Limbaugh should be condemned for his language. Furthermore, Fluke’s family, appearance, and personal life should not be attacked personally, as others have done. Disgusting language should have no place in civil discourse.
But just because Fluke’s critics have been foolish enough to personally attack her does not mean that Sandra Fluke provided accurate information in her statement. Indeed, the controversy over Limbaugh’s slur distracted from the real problems with Fluke’s “testimony.” (I put the word testimony in quotation marks for a reason - read on.)
A careful analysis of Fluke’s statement raises many questions:
1)  Fluke’s “testimony” was not sworn. Sandra Fluke “testified” before a panel led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and was conducted without any Republican Congressmen present. Thus, her statement was more of a campaign commercial for the Democratic stance on the issue than an actual Congressional hearing.
2)  Fluke asserted that religious liberty was not harmed by the Obama administration’s decision. But contraception goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church. Requiring Catholic employers to pay insurance companies to provide free birth control, is clearly a violation of religious liberty. Every single one of the bishops of the Catholic Church has said that this mandate does go against the teachings of the Church - an unprecedented show of unity among bishops. (Update – the Obama administration has expanded the decision to include many college students, as well.)
3)  Regarding the issue of the cost of contraception: It has already been reported by many media outlets that generic contraception costs as little as 9 dollars a month. Not all contraception works for everybody, because some women’s bodies reject generic contraception. For many women, 9 dollars a month suffices; for other women, different and more expensive forms of contraception are required, because of the side effects associated with many forms of hormonal birth control. Still, however, $1000 dollars a year comes out to $83 a month - which is a high number. 
Fluke said that contraception “can” cost as much as $3000 over the course of 3 years. This may be technically true. But this cost arises in a minority of cases.
For medical treatment, of course, covering this should not be a problem – and it is not a problem under Church law.
4) Most people use contraception, to, well, contracept. Strictly speaking, preventing pregnancy is not a medical condition in the majority of cases. Pregnancy is the natural result of sexual intercourse.
The question then arises: Why should religious employers be forced to utilize health insurance plans that fully pay for non-medical acitivity?
5)  “Contraception” can only occur where conception is possible. If a woman is not having sex (or is not inseminated), she cannot get pregnant. To call medical treatment for a gay person “contraception” or “birth control,” as Fluke did, is misleading.
6)  Fluke’s claim that 94% of students want birth control is a) unprovable, considering that she does not source her statistic, and b) irrelevant. If 94% of workers want four weeks of guaranteed paid vacation, that does not mean that the government should step in and obligate that employers be forced to provide those vacations. (Aren’t vacations good for health?)
7) It must be noted that the whole of Fluke’s statement is a classic bait and switch. Fluke claims that “some contraceptives can cost more than $3000.” She then focuses her testimony not on contraception per se, but about the medical needs of a minority of students who use hormonal methods of "birth control" for those medical reasons. She claims to be talking about expensive contraception - but in reality focuses her testimony on a small minority who use expensive versions of "the pill" for other methods.
8) Also, Georgetown does cover contraception for medical needs, which even Fluke obliquely acknowledges in her testimony. Fluke claims that female students were turned down because administrators and health officials thought students were using the pill for birth control.
But even assuming that to be true (remember, this was not sworn testimony), that ignores two facts: 1) Most people use contraceptives for the purpose of contraception – and insurance companies will naturally assume that, rightly or wrongly - undercutting Fluke's point that this is purely a medical issue. 2) Dealing with medical insurers is notoriously tricky. Insurance companies, by and large, don’t want to pay for ANYTHING - they seek a profit.    
It must be reiterated that Fluke should never have been called the disgusting name she was called. But neither should she be lionized for her testimony, which clearly has many holes.

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