CNN's Soledad O'Brien told her critics on Monday to "stop tweeting" her and that the particular debate over Obama's past was over. Then on Tuesday she hosted birth control activist Sandra Fluke and simply rolled out the red carpet for her guest to knock her own conservative critics.
Fluke slammed her critics for spewing "misinformation" and silencing women "regarding their own health care." CNN host Soledad O'Brien pointed viewers to Fluke's CNN.com op-ed and teed her guest up with easy questions like "How have the last couple of weeks been?"
O'Brien followed up by asking what her "highs" and "lows" had been recently, and gave her a chance to rail against the "stinging commentary" she's received from critics. O'Brien also read a Washington Times op-ed attacking Fluke's argument, and teed her up to respond.
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The CNN host also twice referred viewers to Fluke's CNN.com op-ed, which hits "opponents of reproductive health access" for smears and trying "to silence women's voices regarding their own health care."
Panel member Will Cain of TheBlaze.com was not so easy on Fluke, pressuring her to admit that the debate was over the employer's right to determine health care benefits. "[N]o one is attempting to ban contraception or limit access and make it illegal for women to have this," Cain stated.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 13 on Starting Point at 8:36 a.m. EST, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We move on to talk about the controversy over birth control. The woman who became, really, the center of that controversy is speaking out today. Sandra Fluke famously was called a slut by Rush Limbaugh after she testified before Congress. She was speaking about President Obama's policy which would require church-affiliated universities and hospitals to provide free contraception to women.
This morning she's written a piece for CNN.com. And she says the goal is to refocus the debate. Sandra Fluke joins us live. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. I'm going to start by reading a little bit of your op-ed that everybody can take a look at if they just go to CNN.com. You write this, "Because we spoke so loudly, opponents of reproductive health access demonized and smeared me and others on the public airwaves. These smears are obvious attempts to distract from meaningful policy discussions and to silence women's voices regarding their own health care." You literally have been the person who's been at the center of that storm. How have the last couple of weeks been?
SANDRA FLUKE: They've been difficult to say the least, but I'm doing Okay.
O'BRIEN: Okay, what's been the highs and what's been the lows?
FLUKE: Well, it's been very gratifying to receive the support of so many Americans who have contacted me to say that they support me, but more importantly that they support this policy and believe that women need this affordable access to contraception, to an aspect of their basic health care.
O'BRIEN: That's the good news. And I know in your op-ed you write a lot about sort of the stinging commentary – not just by Rush Limbaugh but by others as well.
FLUKE: Yes. And I think one of the other low points in this process has been the misinformation that's being put out to the public about this debate. And that's one of the main reasons that I wanted to submit the op-ed, because I wanted people to understand that this is neither government subsidized contraception nor is contraception as incredibly cheap as some people have shared.
O'BRIEN: Okay, so in the Washington Times today there's a guy named Dr. Milton Wolf. He's a columnist, he's also a radiologist. And he writes this about you. "So Ms. Fluke gets a free lunch. Well, not quite. Somebody's got to pay the increased taxes, higher insurance premiums, and – mark my words – increased contraception costs. So the government simply transfers those bills to someone else like the janitors at Georgetown law, for example, who humbly clean up after spoiled kids. I bet those janitors buy their own birth control at Wal-Mart without whining. But Ms. Fluke is entitled and I'm sure she's worth it."
When you read something like that, what's your response to that?
FLUKE: Wow. For starters, the staff at Georgetown actually already have coverage of contraception on their insurance, and the students are merely asking for the same. But I was actually speaking out about students and about low income women across the country who need access to this care. It's unfortunate that some folks have made it so much about me and my access, because that was not what my testimony was about. And I would encourage people to take a look at that testimony.
CAIN: Hey Sandra, this is Will Cain. I actually appreciate your desire to move this debate towards a more substantive position. I want to take you up on that opportunity. The conversation is about access, and you used this word several times, access. But I hope you and I can agree on one term of this debate here. And that is, no one is attempting to ban contraception or limit access and make it illegal for women to have this. The debate is about who should be providing it, who should be paying for it. Should employers determine what is involved in their compensation, determined in their health care benefits, or should the government make certain requirements of employers? Can we agree that is what this debate is about?
FLUKE: Well not exactly. I think there are multiple ways to limit access. Certainly making something illegal would be the most extreme form, but not covering it as a health care benefit the way other types of health care benefits are covered is another way to limit access. And that's what many women across the country are currently experiencing when they, even if they have insurance, co-pays can be as high as $50 a month, which is significant for a woman not making a lot of money.
CAIN: But Sandra, couldn't that same logic be applied to so many other things that health care doesn't cover, such as gym memberships? Exercise is important to health, but that's not covered by health care insurance. Couldn't that logic you're using, saying access is denied because it's not being offered to you for some reduced price, apply to so many things?
FLUKE: I think that that's not a fair comparison and most women would tell you that's not a fair comparison. There are many types of preventive health care services that are covered on contraception, things like blood pressure medication, for example. And women are merely asking that their health be taken just as seriously.
O'BRIEN: Sandra Fluke joining us this morning. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. And we encourage everybody to take a look at your op-ed, which is at CNN.com this morning.
FLUKE: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: And you know, it's so funny, I would add to that, isn't gym membership – isn't part of her argument if gym membership were covered for other employees? Right, it's covered for other people at Georgetown. Her point was that the janitors actually get their contraception covered. So the gym membership, I think, is a flawed analogy.
CAIN: I think It focuses on the right question. Should employers determine the benefits or should the government be mandating what employers provide?
O'BRIEN: And employers determine the benefits for some people and not others.
CAIN: You can pay more than me, Soledad. The employers determine that as well, but I don't have a big problem with it right now, yet.
O'BRIEN: (Laughing) That's a whole other conversation.