President Obama on Friday called a Georgetown law student to thank her for publicly backing the administration’s policy requiring health insurance coverage of contraceptives for women, despite an escalating war of words between Democrats and Rush Limbaugh.
The president made the call just before the student, Sandra Fluke, was to appear on MSNBC.
“What was really personal for me was he said to tell my parents that they should be proud,” she told Andrea Mitchell, the cable news host.
Last month, Ms. Fluke supported Mr. Obama’s policy in informal testimony on Capitol Hill, prompting Mr. Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host, to call her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for supporting the policy, even if it violates an employer’s religious beliefs.
Under heavy pressure from Democratic leaders, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio earlier Friday condemned Mr. Limbaugh’s comments as “inappropriate.”
But Mr. Boehner, a Republican, also denounced Democratic fund-raising efforts that have tried to use the debate to the party’s advantage.
“The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation,” Michael Steel, Mr. Boehner’s spokesman, said.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the president called Ms. Fluke to tell her that he stood by her, and that Mr. Obama believed that Mr. Limbaugh’s comments were “unfortunate attacks.”
Mr. Carney himself called them “reprehensible.”
In an appearance last month before an informal House Democratic hearing, Ms. Fluke testified in favor of Mr. Obama’s mandate, which Georgetown and other Catholic institutions have roundly condemned as an infringement on their religious rights.
At the hearing, Ms. Fluke said fellow students at the Jesuit university pay as much as $1,000 a year for contraceptives that are not covered by student health plans.
On his radio show Wednesday, Mr. Limbaugh said: “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute.”
He continued: “She wants to be paid to have sex … She’s having so much sex she can’t afford contraception.”
Despite withering criticism from Democrats, Mr. Limbaugh doubled down on Thursday. He riffed off earlier comments by Foster Friess, a wealthy backer of Rick Santorum; Mr. Friess had said that in his day, women prevented pregnancy by holding aspirin tablets between their knees.
“I will buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want,” Mr. Limbaugh said.
Democratic lawmakers pounced on the remarks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reached out to activists and donors with this appeal, “Denounce Rush’s Vile Misogyny.” And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started a petition drive to “tell Republican leaders to denounce Rush Limbaugh’s anti-women tirade.”
Ms. Fluke responded to Mr. Limbaugh on Thursday in a statement: “No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner. This language is an attack on all women, and has been used throughout history to silence our voices.”