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Obama calls Sandra Fluke to offer support over Limbaugh comments

By Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison
Topics Congress
March 2, 2012 3:41 PM

Updated: 4:39 p.m. ET

President Obama called Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke to "offer his support to her" Friday, after conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh bashed the student activist as a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she is pushing for employers to pay for contraception.

Mr. Obama called Fluke because "he wanted to offer his support to her, he wanted to express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks and to thank her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak out on an issue of public policy," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, adding the call lasted several minutes.

"I think he, like a lot of people, feels that the kinds of personal attacks that she is - that have been directed her way are inappropriate," Carney said of the president. "The fact that our political discourse has become debased in many ways is bad enough. It is worse when it's directed at a private citizen who was simply expressing her views on a matter of public policy."

"The president expressed to Sandra Fluke that he was disappointed that she was the subject of these crude-of these personal attacks," he continued. "I think that it's fair to say that - reprehensible was my word, but look, these were unfortunate attacks that were leveled against her and the president feels that way."

"Unfortunate?" asked CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell.

"They were, inappropriate and reprehensible," Carney elaborated. "But the point is the president called her to thank her for speaking out on a matter and doing so with great poise on a matter-on a public policy matter and to express his disappointment that she had been subjected to these kinds of attacks."

There has been a growing backlash against Limbaugh since he made the comments on Wednesday, with politicians of all stripes decrying the language as insulting and inappropriate.

At least one company, a mattress retailer called The Sleep Train, has said it will no longer advertise during Limbaugh's radio show due to the negative comments.

Both the Georgetown University Law Center and Georgetown University president have responded to the attacks, as have a number of women's organizations.

A group of more than 200 faculty members, administrators and students from the Georgetown University Law Center and other law schools released a statement condemning the "personal attacks" against Fluke, and lauded her "courage" in defending and advocating "her beliefs about an important issue of widespread concern."

"She has done so with passion and intelligence," the statement said. "And she has been rewarded with the basest sort of name-calling and vilification, words that aim only to belittle and intimidate. 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."

Georgetown University President John DeGioia decried Limbaugh's comments as "misogynistic, vitriolic, and a misrepresentation of the position of our student."

In his radio show Friday, Limbaugh said he thought it was "touching" that Mr. Obama reached out personally to Fluke.

"Oh that's touching, Obama just called Sandra Fluke to make sure she's all right," Limbaugh said. "That is so compassionate, what a great guy."

He continued to defend his comments from Wednesday, arguing that it was "insulting" that Fluke and other women's health advocates would ask taxpayers to fund for contraception for "people who want to have sex without consequences."

"All of the sudden we're told that people who want to have sex without consequences, we have to pay for it. And if we object, we're somehow Neanderthal," Limbaugh said. "Out of nowhere this comes up, and to me this is insulting."

Fluke, a women's health activist who says her friend lost an ovary due to lack of contraceptive care, was turned away from a House oversight hearing on the White House's contraception rule, where she had hoped to testify. Instead, she told her story in a mock congressional hearing later in the month. In her testimony, Fluke largely discussed the high cost of contraception and the important medical benefits it can offer women.

In a statement Friday afternoon, the women's organization NOW called for Clear Channel Communications to "pull the plug on Limbaugh's gilded microphone immediately."

"Limbaugh's targeting of Sandra Fluke was way out of line, even for him. Limbaugh is free to disagree all he wants with Fluke -- a Georgetown Law student who testified before a congressional committee in support of health care coverage for birth control -- but calling her a 'slut' and a 'prostitute' on air is unacceptable. After sparking outrage, Limbaugh took to the airwaves again yesterday to suggest that if Fluke wants contraception to be fully covered, she should post videos of herself having sex online so Limbaugh and others can watch," said NOW president Terry O'Neill.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell contributed to this report.
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