By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Right-wing talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, roundly criticized for branding a law student a "slut" over her outspoken support of President Barack Obama's new policy on contraception coverage, apologized on Saturday for his "insulting word choices."
The furor over Limbaugh's comments, made on his influential radio program, prompted Obama to call the 30-year-old Georgetown University law student and women's rights activist, Sandra Fluke, on Friday to express his support.
"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. "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
Fluke, who has advocated making contraception available to all women, has been caught in the middle of a contentious election-year fight between Obama and Republicans over his policy that requires health insurance plans to cover contraception.
Religious-affiliated organizations, the Roman Catholic Church and social conservatives have protested the policy as an infringement on religious liberty. An effort by Republicans in the Senate to overturn it failed this week.
Fluke told lawmakers in a Democratic House hearing last month that female students at Georgetown, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the country, suffered financial hardship because contraception was not covered by their healthcare insurance, and in some cases had stopped taking it because it cost too much money.
Her comments were mocked by Limbaugh, an influential conservative commentator known for his take-no-prisoners style.
"What does it say about the college co-ed Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex," Limbaugh said on Wednesday on his radio show.
On Thursday, he said: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."
In the written apology issued on Saturday, Limbaugh said he had not intended to make a personal attack on Fluke but "chose the wrong words" as he attempted to make a point.
Several of Limbaugh's sponsors said they would stop advertising on his program following his incendiary remarks and David Friend, CEO of online backup company Carbonite, said the apology was not enough to change his mind about that decision.
"Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency," Friend wrote in a blog post.
"Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. 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," he said.
Fluke, who earlier told Reuters she was initially hurt, then outraged by Limbaugh's remarks, has said she hoped the incident had raised awareness about the new policy. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the apology.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)