The fight for accessible birth control can feel like a Sisyphean task. Right when a boulder of birth control legislation reaches the top of the hill, someone in Congress rolls back coverage and it starts all over again. But Sandra Fluke, who rose to national fame in 2012 when she testified before Congress about the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, is still fighting, pushing that boulder with all her might.
One of her current methods of advocating for progressive policies and affordable health care access is using her voice to shift state-level legislation, and promoting progressive female political candidates through Emerge California.
"Most of the issues that affect people's lives are decided by the state government, rather than the federal government," Fluke tells Bustle in a phone interview. "Right now, as progressives, it's important that we pay attention to the legislation on the state level. We have neglected political campaigns locally and in states, and that's why Republicans control such a large amount of state governments."
Back in 2012, while she was still a law student at Georgetown University, Fluke stood before members of a Congressional panel to advocate for accessible birth control being part of the health care overhaul — what would become the Affordable Care Act. More specifically, she shared how Georgetown University's religious affiliation had blocked women from receiving the coverage they needed, and the consequences of this.
"On a daily basis, I hear from yet another woman from Georgetown or from another school or who works for a religiously affiliated employer, and they tell me that they have suffered financially, emotionally and medically, because of this lack of coverage. And so I'm here today to share their voices," Fluke told members of Congress in her opening statement.
Her eloquent case quickly sparked a national discussion, including backlash from conservative talking heads. This backlash was most succinctly summed up when Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" on his radio show.
Now, since the election of Donald Trump, there is already a legislative agenda launched by some Republicans aimed at rolling back the birth control mandate. One of the most recent moves to strip women's access to health care was Trump's Religious Liberty Order, which may ultimately allow religious employers to deny employees birth control coverage under the umbrella of religious freedom.
These efforts to make birth control less accessible to women is all too familiar to Fluke, who, as an attorney and women's rights activist, has been fighting tirelessly for progressive legislation across the board.
In the years following her Congressional testimony, Fluke has continued to advocate for women's reproductive rights, but she has also served as an attorney for LGBTQ discrimination cases, advocated for victims of sex trafficking, and is currently working on legislation in California to limit air pollution.
In her interview with Bustle, Fluke explains how Trump's Religious Liberty rule is a direct affront to women's access to birth control, and more specifically, why birth control access is so fundamental to gender equality.
"I do think that we've recognized legitimately that this rule targets women and will have a disproportionate discriminatory impact on women's access to health care and birth control, and will also fuel the other medical conditions that women use birth control to prevent, to treat, to mitigate," Fluke says.
Fluke further argues that targeting women's contraception access will impose a wide range of restrictions on non-reproductive decisions. "It also impacts women's ability to make choices about their lives, the timing of pregnancy, the size of the family, and that opens up all kinds of choices about education and career opportunities," she notes.
Moreover, Fluke points out that the Trump administration has promoted multiple policies that limit women's reproductive rights — not only through the efforts to repeal the ACA and replace it with the American Health Care Act. Before the ACHA passed the House in May, Trump signed legislation in April that enables states to withhold Title X funds from Planned Parenthood clinics and providers. The measure on Title X funding and other Trump administration policies targeting Medicaid "could limit the availability of contraceptive services, STI screenings and treatment, and preventive cancer screenings, along with other primary care services to low-income women," the Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a May report.
Citing the law targeting Title X funds, Fluke says, "On the one hand, [Republicans] want to take away the ACA and claim there are other ways to access birth control. On the other hand, they want to block those other programs."
Fluke stresses that making sure women have access to contraception is essential not only for their personal lives but for feminism and the advancement of women at large.
"There's a reason that access to birth control is part of the story of the revolution of women's roles in this country," she says. "Cutting off that access, cuts off those possibilities for select women in our country, who already don't have the same access to economic opportunities."