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On Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh, who has no children and is currently on his fourth wife, decided it would be a good idea to slap the “prostitute” label on a young woman who recently testified before Congress on the need for healthcare plans to cover contraception. One day later, the Senate barely defeated a bill that would allow employers and insurers to avoid covering birth control. Most defended the bill on the grounds of “religious freedom” — but Limbaugh’s stone-age utterings may have given the game away.

Sandra Fluke is a law student at Georgetown University who told Congress that rolling back Obama’s policy — which ensures coverage for birth control under any plan — would make birth control unaffordable for many women, including women who need to take it to treat ovarian cancer. Her appearance caused a stir because she only appeared after Democrats walked out of a Republican hearing on the contraception policy that included zero women.

Limbaugh shared his thoughts on Wednesday:

What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? … It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We’re the pimps.

This great defender of family values, who has called himself the “intellectual engine” of the conservative movement and commands a unique amount of power over the behavior of the Republicans in and out of Congress, has decided that the best way to wage a policy war is to graphically shame a woman for making a choice that many conservative women — and Limbaugh knows a lot of conservative women — also regularly make.

For whatever reason — cowardice? agreement? annoyance? — Republicans have shied from responding to a letter signed by more than than 70 Democratic representatives asking them to condemn Limbaugh’s comments. Of course, Thursday’s silence coincided with the 51-48 defeat in the Senate of an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Sen. Marco Rubio (D-Florida) that would allow companies’ insurance plans to avoid covering the birth control costs (or any other procedure) of employees if there were any moral or religious objections.

Blunt told the Associated Press that the fight “won’t be over until the administration figures out how to accommodate people’s religious views at it relates to these mandates,” making it seem like the fight is for the rights of religious groups. It sounds moderate and inclusive, building an illusion of tolerance for a party that has grown increasingly hostile to any sort of reproductive health rights for women. (Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, one of the last Republicans who was not anti-abortion, recently decided to retire because of the contraception fight, among other reasons).

Given that 60% of Catholic women supported Obama’s policy even before the newest round of fighting, one might believe that the Republicans would want to start talking about women with respect so they won’t alienate those ever-crucial suburban soccer moms in this fall’s election.

Or maybe, like college, that’s just for snobs.

 

 

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