* President thanks Georgetown law student for speaking out
* Top U.S. Republican rejects Limbaugh's comments
* Democrats use controversy to raise money
(Adds reaction, details)
By Alister Bull and Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, March 2 President Barack Obama
called a law student on Friday to express his support after she
was branded a "slut" by controversial right-wing talk-show host
Rush Limbaugh for her outspoken support of Obama's new policy on
Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown University in
Washington, has been caught in the middle of a contentious
election-year fight between Obama and Republicans over the
policy, which requires health insurance plans to cover
Religious-affiliated organizations, the Roman Catholic
Church and social conservatives have protested Obama's new
policy as an infringement on religious liberty. An effort by
Republicans in the Senate to overturn it failed this week.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the
top Republican in Congress, distanced his party from Limbaugh's
comments. A spokesman for Boehner called them "inappropriate" in
a statement that also criticized Democrats for using the issue
to raise funds before the Nov. 6 election.
Fluke has spoken out against the Republican effort to scrap
the birth control policy and advocated making contraception
available to all women, drawing fire from Limbaugh and some
other conservative commentators.
"The president called her to thank her for speaking out ...
and expressed his disappointment that she had been subjected to
these kinds of attacks," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"He thinks they were reprehensible, they were
disappointing," Carney said. "It is disappointing that those
kinds of personal and crude attacks could be leveled against
someone like this young law school student, who was simply
expressing her opinion on a matter of public policy."
The Obama campaign has made the contraception
issue a rallying cry to attract women voters, who helped Obama
win the presidency in 2008. The Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee says it has raised $1.6 million since Fluke
testified on Capitol Hill last week.
Obama's policy originally required all employers that
provide health insurance - except for houses of worship and
churches - to supply coverage for women's contraceptives.
Non-employer sponsored health insurance policies would also have
to cover them.
Obama subsequently tweaked the policy so that religiously
affiliated employers like hospitals, universities and charities
would not be required to cover the cost, which would fall
instead on insurers. That did not satisfy Catholic bishops, who
reject the use of artificial contraceptives.
The debate has triggered strong emotions and
incendiary rhetoric on both sides of the issue, which has pitted
advocates of women's reproductive rights against supporters of
conservative social policies.
Limbaugh first blasted Fluke 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? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have
Limbaugh, an influential conservative commentator known for
his take-no-prisoners style and shocking comments, is one of the
most listened-to radio talk-show hosts in the country.
"If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay
for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you
what it is: we want you to post the videos online so we can all
watch," he added, repeating the slurs again on Thursday.
Fluke said she was outraged by the comments and called them
an effort "to silence all of us speaking about the healthcare
that we need," on NBC's "Today" program.
Fluke told lawmakers in a Democratic House hearing on Feb.
23 that female students at Georgetown, the oldest Catholic and
Jesuit university in the country, suffered financial hardship
because contraception was not covered by their healthcare
insurance and in some cases had stopped taking it because it
cost too much money.
Georgetown University President John DeGioia said the debate
over the contraceptives policy was a legitimate one, but he
blasted the comments of Limbaugh and others as "behavior that
can only be described as misogynistic, vitriolic, and a
misrepresentation of the position of our student."
(Editing by Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney)