Sandra Fluke Opening Statement, February 23rd, 2012

NANCY PELOSI: We’re honored that you’re here, thank you for your courage. Please proceed with your testimony as you wish, Ms. Sandra Fluke.

SANDRA FLUKE: Leader Pelosi, Members of Congress, good morning and thank you for calling this hearing on women’s health and for allowing me to testify on behalf of the women who will benefit from the affordable care act contraceptive coverage regulation. My name is Sandra Fluke and I am a third year student at Georgetown Law School, I’m also a past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice or LSRJ and I’d like to acknowledge my fellow LSRJ members and allies and all of the student activists with us and thank them so much for being here today.

We at Georgetown’s LSRJ are here today because we’re so grateful that this regulation implements the non-partisan medical advise of the Institution of Medicine, I attended a Jesuits Law School that does not provide contraceptive coverage in its student’s health plan and just as we students have faced financial, emotional and medical burden as a result, employees at religiously affiliated hospitals and institutions and universities across the country have suffered similar burdens. We are all grateful for the new regulation that will meet the critical health care needs of so many women; simultaneously, the recently announced adjustment addresses any potential conflict with the religious identity of Catholic and Jesuit institutions.

When I look around my campus, I see the faces of the women affected by this lack of contraceptive coverage and specially in the last week I’ve heard more and more of their stories. On a daily basis I hear from yet another woman from Georgetown or from another school or who works for a religiously affiliated employer and they tell me that they have suffered financially, emotionally and medically because of this lack of coverage and so, I’m here today to share their voices and I want to thank you for allowing them, them not me, to be heard.

Without insurance coverage contraception, as you know, can cost a woman over three thousand dollars during law school, for a lot of students who, like me, are on public interest scholarships that’s practically an entire summer’s salary. Forty percent of the female students that Georgetown Law reported to us they struggle financially as a result of this policy. One told us of how embarrassed and just powerless she felt when she was standing at the pharmacy counter and learned for the first time that contraception was not covered on her insurance and she had to turn and walk away, because she couldn’t afford that prescription. Women like her have no choice but to go without contraception. Just last week a married female student told me that she had to stop using contraception because she and her husband just couldn’t fit it into their budget anymore. Women employed in low waged jobs without contraceptive coverage face the same choice; and some might respond that contraception is acceptable in lots of other ways, unfortunately, that’s just not true. Women’s health clinics provide a vital medical service, but as the good Mocker Institute has definitively documented, these clinics are unable to meet the crushing demand for these services. Clinics are closing and women are being forced to go without the medical care they need. How can Congress consider the Fortenberry, Rubio and Blunt legislation that will allow even more employers and institutions to refuse contraception coverage and then respond that the non-profit clinics should step up to take care of the resulting medical crisis, particularly when so many legislators are attempting to defund those very same clinics.

These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people, in the worse cases women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer very dire consequences. A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and she has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription it’s technically covered by Georgetown’s insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancies; unfortunately, under many religious institutions insurance plans it wouldn’t be; there would be no exception for other medical needs. I understand Blunt’s amendment and Senator Rubio’s bill or representative Fortenberry’s bill there is no requirement that such an exception be made for these medical needs. When this exception does exists, these exceptions don’t accomplish their well intended goals because when you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose are not, a woman’s health take a backseat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.

In sixty-five percent of the cases at our school, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff, about why they needed prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms. For my friend and twenty percent of the women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite the verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancies. She is gay, so clearly, polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy for her. After months of paying over one hundred dollars out of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore and, she had to stop taking it. I learned about all of this when I walked out of a test and I got a message from her that, in the middle of the night, in her final exam period, she’d been in the emergency room; she’d been there all night and in just terrible, excruciating pain. She wrote to me: “it was so painful I woke up thinking I’ve been shot.” Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary, she had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result. On the morning I was originally scheduled to give this testimony, she was sitting in a doctor’s office trying to cope with the consequences of this medical catastrophe. Since last’s year surgery, she’s been experiencing night sweats, and weight gain and other symptoms of early menopause as a result of the removal of her ovary. She’s 32 years old. As she put it, if my body indeed does enter early menopause, no fertility specialist in the world will be able to help me have my own children. I’ll have no choice of giving my mother her desperately desired grandbabies simply because the insurance policy that I paid for, totally unsubsidized by my school wouldn’t cover my prescription for birth control when I needed it. Now, in addition to potentially facing the health complications that comes with having menopause at such an early age: increased risk of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, she may never be able to conceive a child. Some may say that my friend’s tragic story is rare, it’s not; I wish it were. One woman told us doctors believed she had endometriosis but that can’t be proven without surgery so the insurance has not been willing to cover the contraception she needs to treat her endometriosis. Recently, another woman told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome, and she’s struggling to pay for her medication and terrified not to have access to it. Due to the barriers erected by Georgetown’s policies, she hasn’t been reimbursed for her medication since last August. I sincerely pray that we don’t have to wait until she looses an ovary or is diagnosed with cancer before her needs and the needs of all these women are taken seriously.

Because this is a message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends: a woman’s reproductive health care isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. One woman told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered under the insurance and she assumed that that’s how Georgetown handled all women’s reproduction and sexual health care. So when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor, even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health. As one other student put it, this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs. These are not feelings that male fellow students experience, and they are not burdens that male students must shoulder. In the media, lately, some conservative Catholic organizations have been asking what did we expect when we enroll in a Catholic school. We can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create unattainable burdens that impede our academic success; we expected that our schools would live up to the Jesuit’s creed of Cura Personalis, to care for the whole person by meeting all of our medical needs. We expected that when we told our universities of the problems this policy created for us as students they would help us; we expected that when ninety-four percent of students opposed the policy, the university would respect our choices regarding insurance students pay for completely unsubsidized by the university. We did not expect that women would be told in the national media that we should have gone to school elsewhere, and even if that meant going to a less prestigious university. We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health, and we resent that in the twenty-first century anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this choice simply because we are women.

Many of the women whose stories I’ve shared today are Catholic women, so ours is not a war against the church, it is a struggle for access to the health care we need. The president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges has shared that Jesuit Colleges and Universities appreciate the modifications of the rule announced recently. Religious concerns are addressed and women get the health care they need and I sincerely hope that is something we can all agree upon.


  1. It looks like Barack Obama should be petitioned to give up his White House gig unless he comes out and rebukes every single liberal who has used derogatory terms against conservative women.

    To do any less, amid calls for Romney, Cantor, etc. to rebuke Limbaugh, is gross hypocrisy.

  2. I do not recall any liberal public figure ever calling a conservative woman - let alone women - a slut and a prostitute. I don't ever remember hearing, reading or watching a show where a liberal host asked a conservative woman to make a video of her having sex and to post that video for the world to see. No, that has never happened.

    President Barack Obama, because it is President - whether you like it or not - has not asked Rush (a despicable excuse of a man that doesn't deserve any respect by addressing him by his last name) to resign. Inasmuch as Rush would love to think of himself as being the leader of the GOP, he is nothing more than a radio entertainer who insulted, publicly, a private citizen and our President has more important matters to attend to...

    You make me laugh comparing Rush to a REAL politician! How much is he paying you to do this?

  3. "Independent Thinker" my eyeball. You're a liberal lapdog following the liberal party line.

    Bill Maher called Sarah Palin a "cunt". He called her a "dumb twat" and called her and Bachmann "bimbos". Ed Schultz called Laura Ingraham a “talk slut" and a "right-wing slut". David Letterman called Sarah Palin a “slutty looking” flight attendant.

    And those are just a few of many, including: Randi Rhodes, Axelrod, Keith Olbermann, Michael Moore, and Chris Matthews, The Roots on Jimmy Fallon....