Rush Limbaugh is in trouble. Advertisers are fleeing his show in response to a social media conflagration over the shock jock’s misogynist attack on women’s health advocate Sandra Fluke.
So far, 20 companies have decided to pull their ads. And perhaps even more worrying to the Master of Bile and Bombast is that two radio stations have decided to drop him from their broadcast schedule. More may follow.
Have Rush’s chickens finally come home to roost? His derogatory comments about Sandra Fluke -- claiming she was trying to get taxpayers to "pay her to have sex" and then demanding she "put the videos online" -- exceeded even the loose standards that pass for decency in the right-wing media landscape.
The resulting clamor forced Limbaugh to issue his first-ever apology -- although it was condemned by Fluke for its inadequacy.
The Assault on Women’s Health
The storm of protest against Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke is satisfying to those of us who condemn sexual assaults of all kinds, verbal and otherwise. But our sense of triumph should be fleeting. The fact is, Rush’s comments are a symptom of society's failure to fully get behind a woman’s right to reproductive health.
International Women's Day is March 8th.
Yet on the verge of that day, the U.S. is experiencing a mounting campaign to roll back this right, from state laws mandating “trans-vaginal probes” and other humiliations to women who exercise their legal right to abortion, to trying to block access to contraception for women who depend on employer-based health insurance.
Fluke has been trying to get Georgetown University, where she is a third year law student, to cover contraceptives under its campus health insurance plan. The drugs are prescribed both for birth control and the treatment of certain medical conditions, like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
She came to the media's attention when she was not allowed to testify on the impact of Georgetown’s policy on women’s health before a Republican-controlled Congressional hearing on the employer mandate to cover birth control.
Reproductive Health is a Civil Right
Women's reproductive health is a civil rights issue, constitutionally guaranteed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. But that’s not how it’s being framed by pundits, politicians and others in the media. They see it as a question of "religious freedom." Women's right to freedom of reproductive choice -- and how the campaign against access to contraception is part of a wholesale assault on that right -- is elided.
In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “made it clear that an employer’s failure to provide coverage of contraception, when it covers other prescription drugs and preventive care, is a violation of protections against sex discrimination,” as a paper by the Guttmacher Institute states. Moreover, “those protections for employees’ benefits include no exemption for religious employers [emphasis added].”
Contraception Is A CSR Issue
If reproductive health is a civil right, is it also a CSR issue? You bet.
When access to contraception is something that is determined by one’s employer, it becomes a fundamental component of corporate social responsibility to provide that access without restriction.
Unfortunately, while most employer health plans provide some baseline contraceptive coverage, they almost often require co-pays. And that can be costly to employees. Hormonal birth control, like the Pill, can cost as much as $600 per year – a fat chunk of money for someone on the lower scale of the average American wage.
IUDs, which are more effective than hormonal methods, are even more expensive -- from $700 to $1,000. With deductibles and co-pays going ever higher, the cost is prohibitive for many women.
Contraception Is About Health
And let’s be clear. This isn’t about “morals.” It’s about health. Getting pregnant is far riskier to a woman’s health than contraception or even abortion. Laura MacCleery, Director of Government Relations for the Center For Reproductive Rights, told CSRwire, “contraception improves maternal and child health outcomes by reducing very early birth and allowing women to plan their pregnancies.”
This is why the Obama Administration has mandated that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act cover contraception without cost to employees. Obama’s accommodation for religious employers who object to the mandate exempts them from paying for it, shifting the cost entirely to the insurance company.
Unrestricted Access to Contraception is Good For Business
It’s a cost insurance companies are glad to pay. That’s because covering contraception free of cost to the employee is good for business. MacCleery cited a business case analysis done by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the National Business Group On Health, finding that such coverage more than pays for itself.
It’s cost-effective both for the health insurer, by reducing unintended pregnancies, and for the employer, by reducing absenteeism and increasing overall worker satisfaction. It’s a case of doing well by doing good.
Environmental protection, elimination of poverty, increasing educational levels for girls, improving family health, and fostering entrepreneurship among the economically disadvantaged -- all these goals central to sustainability are inextricably bound to women’s control of their reproductive health.