WASHINGTON (AP) – Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh apologized Saturday to a Georgetown University law student he had branded a “slut” and “prostitute” after fellow Republicans as well as Democrats criticized him and several advertisers left his program.
The student, Sandra Fluke, had testified to congressional Democrats in support of their national health care policy that would compel her college to offer health plans that cover her birth control.
“My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir,” Limbaugh said on his website. “I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”
Attempts to reach Fluke by telephone and e-mail were unsuccessful.
Fluke had been invited to testify to a House committee about her school’s health care plan that does not include contraception. Republican lawmakers barred her from testifying during that hearing, but Democrats invited her back and she spoke to the Democratic lawmakers at an unofficial session.
President Barack Obama, whose landmark health care overhaul requires many institutions to provide birth control coverage, telephoned her from the Oval Office on Friday to express his support.
The issue has been much debated in the presidential race, with Republican candidates particularly criticizing the Obama plan’s requirements on such employers as Catholic hospitals. Democrats – and many Republican leaders, too – have suggested the issue could energize women to vote for Obama and other Democrats in November.
Limbaugh was not swayed by Fluke’s statements before the House panel.
He said on Wednesday, “What does it say about the college coed … who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”
He dug in a day later, refusing to give ground.
“If we’re going to have to pay for this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke,” Limbaugh said. “And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we’re getting for our money.”
He also asked the 30-year-old Fluke: “Who bought your condoms in junior high?”
And on Friday, still defiant even after Democrats beat back Republican challenges to the new health care law, Limbaugh scoffed at the Democrats’ talk of a conservative “war on women.”
“Amazingly, when there is the slightest bit of opposition to this new welfare entitlement being created, then all of a sudden we hate women. We want ’em barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen,” he said. “And now, at the end of this week, I am the person that the women of America are to fear the most.”
By Saturday, six advertisers had pulled sponsorship of Limbaugh’s show and Republicans distanced themselves from the comments.
Republican Newt Gingrich said reporters were more excited to talk about Limbaugh’s language than Obama’s record.
“I think that’s a vastly bigger issue than anything a radio host says,” Gingrich told reporters in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Even so, Limbaugh decided to yield late Saturday.
“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week,” Limbaugh said in his statement. “In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.”
But he also said the entire debate was “absolutely absurd.”
“In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone’s bedroom, nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a presidential level,” he said.
Limbaugh’s critics were not swayed by his statement.
“In all seriousness, this isn’t an apology. It’s a public relations statement. It’s hollow and deceitful. Don’t be fooled,” tweeted the account StopRush, the effort online to pressure advertisers to abandon the popular host.
And even after the apology, some advertisers still planned to abandon Limbaugh.
“Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show,” Carbonite CEO David Friend said on his company’s Facebook page. “We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”
The latest furor involved putting in place a requirement in the president’s health care law mandating that religious-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and universities include free birth control coverage in their employee health plans. Georgetown, a Jesuit institution, does not provide contraception coverage in its student health plan.
Many Republicans and some religious organizations accused Obama of waging a war on religion. As protests mounted, Obama said religious employers could opt out, but their insurers still must pay for the birth control coverage.
In his apology, Limbaugh repeated his aversion to the rule.
“I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities,” he said. “What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?”
Associated Press reporter Ken Thomas in Bowling Green, Ohio, contributed to this report.