NEW YORK — Stepping into an emerging culture clash over women, President Barack Obama made a supportive phone call Friday to a law student who testified before Congress about the need for birth control coverage, only to be called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh.

For Obama, it was an emphatic plunge into the latest flare-up on social issues. Democratic officeholders and liberal advocacy have accused Republicans of waging a “war on women” because of GOP stances on contraception and abortion rights, and Limbaugh’s tirade on his radio talk show was seen as an escalation.

In addition to her call from the president, the third-year Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, was backed by members of Congress, women’s groups, and the administration and faculty at her Roman Catholic university.

Demands for Limbaugh’s sponsors to pull their ads from his show rocketed through cyberspace, and at least three companies, Quicken Loans and bedding retailers Sleep Train and Sleep Number, bowed to the pressure.

Obama considers Limbaugh’s remarks “reprehensible,” according to White House spokesman Jay Carney. He said the president called Fluke to “express his disappointment that she has been the subject of inappropriate personal attacks” and to thank her for speaking out on an issue of public policy.

Obama rules out ‘containment’ as an option on Iran

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said for the first time that he does not view “containment” as an option if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon, warning Iran’s leaders to take seriously the U.S. threat to use military force.

The comments in a magazine interview released Friday were part an effort to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. “has Israel’s back,” and there is no need to rush toward airstrikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama is scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Monday.

Obama’s language also seemed intended to quiet worries among Israel’s supporters on Capitol Hill about Washington’s willingness to use force if necessary. His carefully worded statement, referring to force as an “option,” stopped short of saying that an attack would be automatic if Iran decides to build a bomb, as some hawks on the issue have urged. But by publicly ruling out containment — a strategy of tolerating a nuclear-armed Iran but aiming to restrain its actions — it left few non-military options if diplomacy fails.

Soaring cost estimate prompts health law doubts

WASHINGTON — Cost estimates for a key portion of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law have ballooned by $111 billion from last year’s budget, and a senior Republican lawmaker on Friday demanded an explanation.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., wants to know by Monday why the estimated cost of helping millions of middle-class Americans buy health insurance has jumped by about 30 percent for an eight-year period, from 2014-2021.

Administration officials say the explanation lies in budget technicalities and that there are no significant changes in the program that would raise concerns.

Cost estimates for new government programs can be wide off the mark. For example, the actual cost of President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug benefit came in lower than estimated, so it wasn’t as big a drag on federal finances as initially forecast.