03.02.12

Will Sandra Fluke Sue Rush Limbaugh?

Sandra Fluke, the law student pilloried as a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for testifying in favor of access to birth control, tells Allison Yarrow in an interview that she won’t stop fighting—and she may file suit.

Sandra Fluke said Friday that she is entertaining the possibility of a suit against the conservative talk show host.

“I’ve certainly been told I might have a case, but it’s not something I’ve made any decisions about at this point,” the 30-year-old Georgetown University law student told The Daily Beast.

Limbaugh called Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut” for testifying that she and her classmates could pay $3,000 for three years of birth control at Georgetown, a Catholic-affiliated school whose health plan does not cover contraception. That sum, Fluke said, is out of reach for many.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi held a hearing on contraception after Fluke was denied entry into Rep. Darrell Issa's hearing on the topic. These discussions are taking place in response to the Obama administration's mandate that employers provide contraception to their employees free of cost. After blowback from religious groups, including the Catholic community, the administration added that insurance companies would shoulder these costs for religious institutions that ideologically oppose them.

Fluke was quick to emphasize that preventing pregnancy is not the only reason women choose birth control, and that it can be necessary for other health reasons.

The possibility of a lawsuit over Limbaugh’s remarks was floated Friday by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York. Introducing a speech by Sen. John Kerry at New York Law School, Maloney said “we will be filing a slander suit against Rush Limbaugh. What he’s really trying to do is silence a young woman. It’s unfair, it’s un-American.” Maloney also suggested that Sybil Shainwald, a prominent women’s-rights attorney, would be the perfect counsel for the case.

Video screenshot

Allison Yarrow on Rush Limbaugh’s slut shaming.

Legal experts say Fluke’s case could be strengthened by the fact that she would likely be considered a private citizen, not a public figure. Private citizens are entitled to stronger protections against slander than celebrities, politicians and others who lead highly visible lives.

“I think it’s really important, anytime you speak publicly about something you care about, to project your most reasonable self,” Sandra Fluke said in an interview. “I do get angry about things, but I’m fairly levelheaded.”

Addressing “Miss Fluke” and “the rest of you feminazis,” Limbaugh told his radio audience this week: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex. We want something for it. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

“Men are on board,” Fluke said. “A lot of them write to me. They say ‘I support you. I’m doing this for my granddaughters.’ They really do care.”

Fluke said her fellow students at Georgetown were “legitimately angry that the comments impugned their character as well as mine.” But she said she was heartened by those who came to her defense, including some members of Congress, friends, and the university. And Fluke has the sympathies of President Obama. Fluke tweeted, "Thank you @BARACKOBAMA for your call and words of support. It means so much to me and millions of women!" NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tweeted that Fluke said she received the call from the president in the studio greenroom. The Associated Press reports that the president “decries the personal attacks” on her.

Georgetown President John DeGioia denounced the comments Limbaugh and other commentators who said similar things about Fluke, calling the remarks “misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student,” in a statement released Friday.

Asked if she feared for her safety amid the outpouring of negative comments, Fluke said, “At this point I don’t feel in danger.”

Fluke described a number of "dangerous" bills being debated, saying that if passed, they could threaten women’s reproductive well-being. The opposition is religious in nature, she said, but also she sees “outright efforts to control women’s reproductive rights” as equally damaging.

But it’s not only a fight for women. “Men are on board,” Fluke said. “A lot of them write to me. They say ‘I support you. I’m doing this for my granddaughters.’ They really do care.”

Fluke had no specific message to relay to Limbaugh, though she said she wants everyone to remember that he was one of a number of media personalities attacking women’s bodies and voices.

Fluke was forbidden from testifying at an official hearing on contraception held by Rep. Darrell Issa last week. Asked what can be done to expand unmitigated access to contraception for all women, Fluke said:

“If this is something you care about, tell the people who care about you.”