Sandra Fluke: Health Access Is An Economic Issue

Sandra Fluke found herself in the center of a media storm earlier this year. She became a political target after she testified in favor of President Obama's policy to require most employers' insurance plans to cover contraception. Fluke spoke at this week's Democratic convention, and talks about it with host Michel Martin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Earlier in the program, we heard from two top speechwriters for their perspectives on the best and worst of the speeches that we heard over the past two weeks of party conventions. Of course these were some of the most professional, most experienced speakers in the country.

But now we want to talk with someone who faced those crowds without all that experience behind her: Sandra Fluke. She's someone you may have heard about. As a student at Georgetown Law Center, she made the news earlier this year when she tried to address a congressional committee to defend President Obama's health care law that requires contraception coverage.

That prompted conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh to call her a, quote, "slut," among other things. Limbaugh apologized, sort of, but the experience led Sandra Fluke to take her advocacy further. She's been traveling the country talking about women's health issues, and earlier this week, she landed a primetime speaking role at the Democratic National Convention.

We caught up with her yesterday as she was making the rounds after her speech, and she's with us now. Thank you so much.

SANDRA FLUKE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, I should mention that we're catching up with you a little bit after your speech, before the president's speaking. So we're not going to talk to you about that. What was your goal Wednesday night in your remarks? What were you trying to accomplish?

FLUKE: Well, my goal was to lay out for the American people the choice that we have this November and to talk about Mr. Romney's positions and President Obama's positions. And I think the best way to do that is to look at their records. And so that's what I tried to do was to paint a picture of what it would mean for women in this country if we elected Mr. Romney versus if we continued to have President Obama's leadership on the issues that matter to us most.

And that includes, you know, reproductive health care, women's health care, equal pay, violence against women, just economic issues, everything that we're really concerned about.

MARTIN: I just want to play a short clip from your speech for people who may not have heard it, and of course people can go back and listen to all of the speeches in their entirety through various means. I just want to play a short clip just to give people a sense of it, and here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

FLUKE: It would be an America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it.

An America in which politicians redefine rape, and victims are victimized all over again.

MARTIN: Now, I don't mean to trivialize any of the issues that we're talking about here, but I did want to ask you about the tone of this because there are those who are arguing that, you know, the tone on Wednesday night was for some people a little harsh, and the argument is that if the idea is to persuade the people who are not yet persuaded, was that really the right way to go. And I'd like to ask if you'd respond to that.

FLUKE: Well, what I thought was really important was to give a speech that would move people and have them ask more questions about those policies. So that's why I put up the text of my speech on my Tumblr site, as well as on MSNBC, with links in the text to each of the policies that I was discussing. I wanted to be sure to be spreading information when I was speaking.

MARTIN: I also want to ask about the argument that these issues really aren't the central issues, that the central issue here is the economy. And in fact, the Republicans put up a new ad out Thursday, the Republican National Committee, showing a young women breaking up with a cardboard cutout of President Obama, saying, you know, you've changed, you know, it's not me, it's you, you know, kind of thing.

And it's a humorous take, but the argument basically is that the president hasn't delivered. And all the stuff about reproductive choice and so forth is really a distraction. How do you respond to that?

FLUKE: Well, I haven't actually seen the ad, but it's interesting that an interesting that a woman was painted in a romantic relationship rather than as a voter making an informed decision. But I think that it's important to recognize that issues of health care access are economic issues.

So being able to afford the care that you need and to not wonder which of the basic expenses you have to forego in order to take care of your kids, those are economic issues. And when it comes to fair pay, that's a $413,000 over a woman's career, just on average, that is out of her pocketbook because she's not being paid fairly for the work that she's already doing.

So I don't see these as sideline issues. I see them as very connected to the economic issues we all are concerned about. But they're not the entire plan.

MARTIN: We keep hearing a lot about an enthusiasm gap among the core constituencies that support President Obama. Do you see that, an enthusiasm gap? And what do you make of it?

FLUKE: No, I don't see it. I've been traveling around to swing states. I was on the road all last week. And when I was speaking with crowds, there was certainly no lack of enthusiasm. Young people especially are really passionate about the fact that this president has brought us out of Iraq and ended that war and has stood up for marriage equality, which my generation and I, I couldn't agree more.

We really view this as the civil rights issue of our time, and we're proud to vote for a president who took a stand on it.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, what's next for you? I mean, obviously your life changed in a way that I'm sure you never expected.

FLUKE: Well, between now and November, I'm just going to be continuing to do whatever I can to help re-elect President Obama. There are some congressional races that I care about, and I have seen over the last two years with this Republican House of Representatives especially, how important it is for the president to have a Democratic Congress to work with him.

So I'm going to be weighing in on those races, trying to do what I can to help with the policies I care about. And after November, we're going to see what comes next. I've got a few things in mind, and we'll see.

MARTIN: Sandra Fluke is an attorney and women's rights activist, and she joined us from Radio Radio Row in Charlotte. You can hear all the activity around her during the Democratic National Convention, being held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sandra Fluke, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FLUKE: Thank you.

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