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Given the relentless assault on women’s reproductive rights conservatives have been waging since their 2010 midterm election wins, Democrats were smart to push back hard against this anti-woman rhetoric at their convention, not just because a majority of Americans support access to family planning services and abortion rights, but because the issue brings out the worst misogynistic impulses in conservative lawmakers.
And nobody really hits those buttons for conservatives like Sandra Fluke. Fluke, a Georgetown law student, rose to national prominence after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other conservatives refused to allow her to testify at hearings over the contraception mandate in Obamacare and concerns it impedes religious liberties. When Fluke refused to quietly slink away like conservatives wanted they upped their attacks. Rush Limbaugh went on a tirade calling Fluke a slut, and viciously attacking Fluke until it almost drove him off the air.
So when Fluke took the stage at the Democratic National Convention, in prime time viewing, Democrats had to know it would cause conservatives’ heads to explode. And they were right.
Par for the course with conservative attacks on Fluke and other advocates, their reactions didn’t address the policy Fluke championed: equal coverage of health care benefits for men and women at equal cost. Instead they returned to the tired slut jokes while they clutched their pearls over the audacity this young woman had to continue to refuse to just go away quietly.
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) who is in a tough battle for his seat against Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth provided the perfect picture of the kinds of attacks conservatives continue to lob at Fluke.
“So at the Democratic Convention Wednesday night their first prime time speaker was Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is,” Walsh said. “Think about this, a 31-32 year old law student who has been a student for life, who gets up there in front of a national audience and tells the American people, ‘I want America to pay for my contraceptives.’ You’re kidding me. Go get a job. Go get a job Sandra Fluke.” “This a woman who feels entitled that we all should pay for her contraceptives,” he said. “This is what we are teaching Americans? That was embarrassing. That was embarrassing.”
If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be obvious now. For conservatives, this is not about Fluke. She is merely a surrogate for their war over women’s bodies. Without access to affordable and reliable contraception women cannot achieve economic parity with men. Ironic, then that this latest wave of attacks are telling Fluke to do exactly what women are trying to do everyday: achieve economic equality.
In the case of Walsh’s comments, and the “facutal” basis for their attacks against Fluke it’s worth nothing those facts are wrong. This is not “taxpayer-funded” birth control but rather insurance coverage for birth control paid by individual premiums–premiums paid by Fluke and thousands of other women out there.
But more importantly, as conservatives continue their battle against equality for all but the white Christian man, this remains a battle with real lives on the line. Not Issa’s, Limbaugh’s, or Walsh’s of course, but women’s lives.
Conservatives can continue to try and use women’s bodily autonomy as a wedge issue in this and future elections, and as we’ve seen from their reaction to Fluke, they will. But in the meantime, women’s lives are on the line–a fact that doesn’t seem to concern the “pro-life” right.
Photo from nmogburn via flickr.