When Jessica, a Southern California-based drug sales representative, woke up yesterday morning, I doubt she would have predicted the role she would play in the ongoing debate over women's reproductive rights.
But when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh muddled the facts during a second day of lengthy remarks on abortion, birth control, and the use of levonorgestrel -- the drug nicknamed Plan B -- Jessica sprung into action.
What followed was an amazing back-and-forth between a caller who seemingly knew the facts -- and told listeners to do their own research, rather than believe her or listen to Limbaugh -- and Limbaugh, who found himself backtracking, sidestepping and generally sounding more uneducated than usual. Ultimately, Limbaugh, on his third or fourth flip-flop, found himself agreeing with his caller.
Limbaugh began discussing all of this Monday, when he commented on an anonymously written piece in the June 4 edition of the Washington Post,
" What Happens When There Is No Plan B
," a first-person account of a 42-year-old woman, "Dana L.," who claims she had an abortion because neither her doctor nor her internist prescribed Plan B.
The writer goes on to say that weeks later, she confirmed that she was pregnant. Given her age, and the fact that she was taking a variety of medications, she felt any pregnancy she had would be high-risk.
DANA L.: "Although I've always been in favor of abortion rights, this was a choice I had hoped never to have to make myself.
When I realized the seriousness of my predicament, I became angry. I knew that Plan B, which could have prevented it, was supposed to have been available over the counter by now. But I also remembered hearing that conservative politics have held up its approval.
Now, before we stray into a debate on abortion rights, let's be clear. The debate at hand is about Plan B and its availability, not whether abortion is right or wrong.
As Limbuagh said
LIMBAUGH: "The point is this Dana L. was upset she couldn't get it over-the-counter because Bush's conservative political policies prevent it from being made available over-the-counter."
(The FDA has offered
its reasoning for not allowing Plan B to be made available over-the-counter -- a decision made in 2003, during Bush's first term.)
Limbaugh, as you would expect, is against abortion. On Monday, he did his radio listeners a favor by saying that Plan B should not be confused with another drug, RU 486.
LIMBAUGH: "What Plan B does is cause an immediate period. I think Plan B is just a large dose of hormones. This causes an immediate period. That's why it has to be used within 72 hours. I don't know. It just causes periods. RU-486 is a steroid. "
But yesterday, Limbaugh backtracked, suggesting that it didn't make much difference whether Dana L. had an abortion or used Plan B, because either way she was terminating a pregnancy.LIMBAUGH
: "You can hide behind Plan B and it's just an immediate period or whatever you want, but it's an abortion. ... I'm being bombarded with questions asking me to explain my "ridiculous assertion" that there's no difference in an abortion and Plan B. Typical question. "Well, what's the difference? In all seriousness here, El Rushbo, what is the difference between birth control and Plan B?" Well, that's easy! Birth control prevents conception. Life begins at conception. I don't care what anybody says; it can't begin anywhere else. Life begins at conception. Human life begins at conception. Plan B comes after conception. Ergo... I mean, my logic is unassailable."
By his own admission, Limbaugh had been besieged by e-mails on Monday -- apparently from angry anti-abortion listeners who are against the use of Plan B. Perhaps it was on their behalf that Limbaugh tried yesterday to invoke "the moral question" into the debate.
But facts are facts, and Limbaugh was straying from them. And that's when our heroine caller, Jessica, got in the act. Here's the transcript
JESSICA: Hi. Real quick, I wanted to jump back to the Plan B, and actually you're mistaken about how Plan B works. It actually does prevent conception. I think you have it confused with RU-486 which actually causes an abortion.
LIMBAUGH: Now, wait a second. You gotta indulge me here, because yesterday when I was explaining this, I got -- look, I don't even want to relive it. The e-mail from angry women
telling me this is what happens when boys start talking about girl stuff. "You don't know what you're talking about in Plan B, you don't know what you're talking about in RU-486, you ought to just shut up about it Rush. You men don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about when it comes to us and reproduction and leave it alone because it's none of your business." I mean, countless e-mails like that. And I was told, I can't tell you, and I went and looked it up, and I found, they said Plan B essentially causes an immediate period.
JESSICA: Correct, it causes an immediate period, but it does not prevent a sperm from fertilizing an egg and that is why you have to take it immediately after you've had intercourse because once that sperm fertilizes the egg, you're going to have the baby.
LIMBAUGH: No, not unless you get an abortion. But let me ask you --
LIMBAUGH: Okay, since it causes an immediate period, obviously you can't ... I should ask. What the hell do I know?
Would you want to take Plan B? Let's say you have a very active and fulfilling sexual life.
LIMBAUGH: Would you want to take Plan B after every event?
JESSICA: No, I would be responsible enough to use contraception, but if I had a one-night stand and hadn't been up to date on my pill, I would much rather take Plan B and prevent fertilization than to have an abortion, which I believe is a totally, totally different thing that preventing, you know, conception.
LIMBAUGH: Yeah. Well --
JESSICA: I just wanted to make that clear because people are very confused between Plan B and RU-486 which does cause an abortion once an egg has been fertilized and I think it's an important distinction.
LIMBAUGH: No question, no question about that, but you know, to a lot of people, it's a distinction without a difference when you insert the moral component
to it all.
JESSICA: But it's not, because if you don't have any problem taking the pill to prevent fertilization, why would Plan B be any different?
LIMBAUGH: Well, because Plan B is the result of a lack of judgment, lack of preparation. Plan B is something that you take to accommodate --
JESSICA: For a mistake.
LIMBAUGH: -- lack of care or concern, judgment.
LIMBAUGH: Birth control is a form of making an early judgment and taking protection. You know, it's a moral question
to a lot of people.
JESSICA: It's not a moral question because if you are going to be having sex out of wedlock anyway and that's why you're taking birth control is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; if you take Plan B you're still preventing an unwanted pregnancy. You're not having an abortion. They're totally different, from having an abortion. I mean, if you take Plan B you're still trying to be proactive and prevent that pregnancy from ever occurring.
JESSICA: That's totally different than, you know, being so lazy that you didn't even go and get the Plan B to prevent the pregnancy. Okay, now it's two months later, you have a baby growing in you and now you're going to have an abortion and you're killing that life. I believe those are two totally separate things and that's why Plan B tried to become an over-the-counter product so that people could be proactive about it and people were so confused, even pharmacists telling people that it caused abortions, that that's why it failed to pass the FDA.
LIMBAUGH: You think it ought to be over-the-counter?
JESSICA: I think it should, because pharmacists are as confused as the rest of the general public, and there are pharmacists that will not sell those prescriptions because they believe it causes an abortion.
LIMBAUGH: Wait a minute, what is wrong with a pharmacist exercising his own morality
in these kinds of things. His own conscience.
JESSICA: I think if you -- I think the circumstances where access to pharmacies is limited is probably very rare. I mean, most people I think probably have access to numerous pharmacies. But for in those instances where the person only has access to one or two pharmacists, you know, in our bread basket where people are very religious and those pharmacists won't dispense Plan B, what do they do then? I don't know the answer to that. I think that's a little bit --
LIMBAUGH: Well, I'm in it deep enough now. I can tell you what's going to happen after you hang up. I'm going to get people calling me saying, "Why did you let her say that? She doesn't know what she's talking about, you really let us down." This is one of these no win days, I know it, it's shaping up that way.
JESSICA: Well, tell them to read the package insert, you know, they're uneducated and just learning from what other people have told them instead of doing their own research.
LIMBAUGH: Yeah, okay, I'll spend the rest of the day telling them to go read the package.
JESSICA: Well, I just said it, you don't have to say it. I said it, read the PI, you'll become much more informed than just listening to somebody on the radio.
LIMBAUGH: Are you saying you're not to be trusted? You're not saying that, see, don't say that.
JESSICA: You don't have to trust me. I'd much prefer people did their own research
, but I mean I can tell you I'm a drug rep, I sell drugs for women's health, and that's the way it works.