BELLINGHAM - Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law school student who was pilloried for speaking out for birth control access and launched into the national spotlight as a result, came to Bellingham to urge support for Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood.
Saying that women's health care is "being marginalized and being policed," Sandra Fluke told the estimated 280 men and women at the fundraiser Friday, Sept. 28, to stand up and stand with Planned Parenthood.
"It's unfortunate when women's health becomes a political football," she said.
She expressed concern about efforts at the federal level to redefine rape, and talked about the importance of supporting women's reproductive health and access to health care.
Planned Parenthood provides health care to 1-in-17 people in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, she told the audience.
The organization, which provides health care services to many low-income women, has been facing efforts at the state and national level to defund it because it provides abortions. By law, federal dollars can't be used for abortions unless it's a case of rape, incest or the life of the mother.
What's at stake is funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and care for pregnant women, Fluke said in an interview.
"That's the kind of health care that we should all be able to agree on as being essential health care. That's not something we're trying to deprive the poorest women in our community of," she said in the interview. "Unfortunately, that's what's at stake now."
Fluke also talked about the pressure placed on Planned Parenthood at the local level.
J. Peter Sartain, archbishop of Seattle, has sent a letter to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham asking the Catholic health care provider to no longer offer lab services to Planned Parenthood.
Those lab services are for tests related to vasectomies, to determine whether a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, and to identify types of wounds so they can be treated with the proper antibiotics.
"These lab services don't have anything to do with abortions. This is not controversial stuff. This is not even anywhere close to the abortion debate," Fluke told the audience.
Fluke and Linda McCarthy, executive director of Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood, said PeaceHealth is continuing to provide those services, but encouraged the audience to show support for the health care organization.
"PeaceHealth is doing what they can to stand with Planned Parenthood," Fluke said.
Meanwhile, the head of PeaceHealth in Bellingham said the organization was continuing to talk with the archbishop.
"We are in ongoing dialogue with Archbishop Sartain regarding the issues of concern and will continue to provide lab services to Planned Parenthood in Bellingham," said Nancy Steiger, PeaceHealth's CEO and chief mission officer in Bellingham.
Fluke earned national attention when she spoke out on the need for her Catholic school's student health-insurance plan to cover contraception - the plan wouldn't if the goal was to prevent pregnancy - and was subsequently called a "slut" by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.
In an interview, Fluke said she "didn't really anticipate the scale" of the attack.
"It was certainly shocking to me as well as to other people. On the other hand, it's something I had seen before. This is something out of a really old playbook," said Fluke, who has since graduated from Georgetown.
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