Sandra Fluke has spent the past three years lobbying Georgetown University to amend its health-insurance plan to cover the cost of birth control. But last week, after the third-year law student was derided as a "slut" by the right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, the issue was reverberating far beyond the walls of this Jesuit university in the nation's capital.
The university hasn't changed its stance on the issue, but its president, John J. DeGioia, issued a written statement on Friday condemning Mr. Limbaugh's attack on Ms. Fluke, whose advocacy for women's issues includes being past president of the campus chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice.
Mr. DeGioia said that while some people might disagree with her, Ms. Fluke "was respectful, sincere, and spoke with conviction" when she testified before Congressional Democrats in favor of the Obama administration's policy requiring that employees of religiously affiliated institutions have access to insurance that covers birth control.
Mr. Limbaugh and conservative bloggers "responded with behavior that can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student," Mr. DeGioia said.
Hundreds of faculty members, students, and administrators at Georgetown and other law schools also signed a statement of support. "As scholars and teachers who aim to train public-spirited lawyers, no matter what their politics, to engage intelligently and meaningfully with the world, we abhor these attacks on Ms. Fluke and applaud her strength and grace in the face of them," it read in part.
The furor began after Ms. Fluke, who had been barred from testifying before a Congressional committee, told a steering committee for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives last month that students pay as much as $1,000 a year for contraceptives that aren't covered by health-insurance plans.
She said required contraceptive coverage would reduce unwanted pregnancies and offer protection against certain medical conditions.
That prompted a seething response from Mr. Limbaugh in his nationally syndicated radio broadcast last week. "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," he said.
He suggested that women who wanted taxpayers to pay for their sexual activities should post videos online "so we can all watch."
On Friday, Ms. Fluke received a telephone call from President Obama, who expressed his disappointment over the personal attack and thanked her for speaking out.
Mr. Limbaugh, who was criticized by leaders of both Democratic and Republican parties, publicly apologized to her on Saturday after a handful of sponsors said they were pulling their advertisements from his show.