Last February, a law student named Sandra Fluke agreed to testify before Congress, arguing that her university's lack of contraception coverage was detrimental to female students, who often use birth control as preventive care. When Fluke uttered the phrase "I am an American woman who uses contraceptives," she drew the wrath of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who repeatedly called her a "slut" on his show.
Since then, Fluke has become an outspoken, public advocate of women's rights. There's a clear difference between then candidates when it comes to women's rights, and this week, she's been traveling around the country with female members of Congress to highlight Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's policies on women's issues.
At a press conference with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Fluke cited the Republican Party's attitudes and actions toward Planned Parenthood as indicative of how extreme the party has become—and just how dangerous their agenda is for women. "I just find it astonishing that the first bill that this House of Representatives chose to pass was a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. When they chose to defund Planned Parenthood, that was literally the choice to take away breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings, and access to contraception. I don't understand the mindset that says that's the most important, critical thing to do. Day one, we need to take away breast cancer screenings for women?"
"Mr. Ryan was part of that decision. Mr. Romney has endorsed that decision."
It's just as telling when a candidate is unwilling—or unable—to lead. "When I was verbally attacked earlier this year, President Obama spoke out and condemned those words," Fluke says. "He supported my right to speak out and make my voice heard. Romney, on the other hand, could only bring himself to say that Limbaugh's words weren't the words he would have chosen.
"I don't need Romney to speak out for me," she says. "I am a strong enough woman to handle that on my own. But it shows me that he's not capable or doesn't want to stand up to the extreme voices in his community. I need to know that the man who's going to be my president is standing up for me and the women of this country. And that's not going to be Mr. Romney."
Her message for the voters, men and women alike, is simple: Educate yourself about the choice the country faces. "What I really hope happens between now and November," she says, "is that every woman in this country—or every man who care about a woman—takes a look at the record of these candidates. President Obama's record is standing up for women and defending us from attacks on our rights and making sure we have the health care we need. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan's have a record that is dangerous and frightening for women—one that limits our access to health care and our economic options."
Find out more about both candidate's records on women's issues here.