Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich slammed “the elite media” for focusing on the contraception controversy that Rush Limbaugh escalated last week instead of reporting on the issues relevant to the campaign.
“I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media to avoid rising gas prices, to avoid the president’s apology to religious fanatics in Afghanistan, to avoid a trillion-dollar deficit, to avoid the longest period of unemployment since the Great Depression, and to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of the week,” the former House speaker said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The controversy erupted after Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke testified before Congress to lobby for the availability of birth control. Limbaugh, who referred to the woman as a “slut” while commenting on the issue, apologized for his rhetoric on Saturday.
"My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir," Limbaugh said in a written statement on Saturday. "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
Gingrich told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory that it was appropriate for Limbaugh to apologize and he’s glad the talk-show host did.
However, he said, there is no debate about contraception access, and he finds the uproar astounding, when so many other major issues are ignored.
“This is the most fundamental assault on religious liberty in American history,” he said, referring to President Barack Obama’s new requirement that insurance companies provide coverage for contraception for employees even at Catholic and other religious institutions that object to birth control as a matter of theology. “It’s not about access to contraception. It is a question about whether or not a religiously affiliated institution should be coerced by the federal government.”
When Gregory asked Gingrich about winning Georgia on Super Tuesday, the former House speaker shrugged and said, “It is the biggest state in terms of delegates. It’s very hard for one of the major candidates to not carry their own state and continue to move forward.”
Following is a transcript of the discussion between Gregory and Gingrich on the contraception controversy:
Gregory: I have to ask you about access to contraception. I realize it’s not at the core of your stump speech, but it is a debate that is certainly highly charged here in Washington and in Congress and on the airwaves. How much damage has this done?
Gingrich: I am astonished at the desperation of the elite media to avoid rising gas prices, to avoid the president’s apology to religious fanatics in Afghanistan, to avoid a trillion-dollar deficit, to avoid the longest period of unemployment since the Great Depression, and to suddenly decide that Rush Limbaugh is the great national crisis of the week.
There’s no debate about access to contraception. There is a debate, which Cardinal George of Chicago has pointed out is a war against the Catholic Church. You do have this weird situation where President Obama apologizes to Islamic extremists while waging war against the Catholic Church. That’s the language, by the way, of the Catholic bishops. You have an issue here of whether the government can coerce the Catholic Church not just into contraception but into sterilization and abortion, something I don’t find any reporter wants to talk about.
You have a president who voted for infanticide as a state senator, who represents the most extreme, pro-abortion position in American, so if you want to have a dialogue about this, David, let’s set the record straight. Barack Obama as a state senator voted to allow doctors to kill babies if they survived the abortion. Barack Obama, as president, in the most radical, anti-religious move made by any president, is trying to coerce the Catholic Church at a time when he’s been told by the bishops . . . they would have to give up every single hospital, they would have to give up every single university and college associated with the church because he is asking them to violate their religious beliefs. If you want a debate over whether or not the president of the United States should be able to impose his views on a religious institution, and whether America’s now a secular country, let’s have that debate.
Gregory: Can I just get to my question? Do you think it was harmful that Limbaugh, certainly an influential voice in the conservative grassroots, and you well know that, was it appropriate for him to apologize? Do you think he’s done damage to the debate that you’re now getting into?
Gingrich: I think it was appropriate for Rush to apologize. I am glad he apologized. Do you think the president owes an apology to all the men and women in uniform who he frankly abandoned when he apologized to religious fanatics in Afghanistan? What’s your opinion, David? Should the president have apologized to the men and women in uniform that he abandoned?
Gregory: Well, I’m going to continue with my questions, so . . .
Gingrich: Because if you want to get into a discussion about apologies, I’m happy to discuss it.
Gregory: So my question, though, is you want the other side to appreciate your view, which is that this is a religious liberty question at the heart of this access to contraception. Can you appreciate the view of those who disagree with you? That this is an attack on women’s rights? That’s their view. Reproductive rights? Access to contraception? And in the extreme, that it’s some sort of war on women? Do you appreciate that view at all?
Gingrich: Nobody’s blocking anyone from having access to contraception. No one. The young lady who testified can get access to contraception. Nobody said she couldn’t. The question is should a Catholic institution, or for that matter, the Ohio Christian University, which is a Protestant institution, which is a very pro-life institution, which is now being told it will have to pay for abortion pills. Now, should a Protestant fundamentalist institution be dictated to by Washington politicians over whether or not it can have its own religious beliefs, or have we become a country where it’s okay to go to church on Sunday morning for one hour, but let’s not actually express those beliefs the rest of the week.
This is the most fundamental assault on religious liberty in American history despite every effort by the elite media to distort what it’s not. It’s not about access to contraception. People who want to can get access to contraception every day. That young lady can get access to contraception. It is a question about whether or not a religiously affiliated institution should be coerced by the federal government.
Gregory: So it seems to me this — in your view — this is actually a pretty fundamental issue. You just don’t like the framing of it, but the fact that it gets raised is something that you think will certainly get you animated. You think it’s certainly going to energize a lot of voters on both sides of the aisle.
Gingrich: I don’t like the framing because I think the framing was false. That young lady has access to contraception every day. There’s no place in America where it’s illegal to go get contraception. What the question is, is should a religiously affiliated institution be required to provide abortion pills? Should they be required to provide sterilization? Remember, the Obama rule was a lot more than just contraception, and by the way, Mitt Romney was on the wrong side of this issue in Massachusetts, where he instructed the Catholic hospitals would be required to issue abortion pills against their religious beliefs. This is a very serious fundamental fight about religious liberty.
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