Michigan State Representative Democrat Lisa Brown used the word vagina in the GOP (and male) dominated Michigan State legislature Wednesday, June 13. GOP Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas barred her from speaking that day and the next, sparking an international event.
It wasn’t just a simple blurt of the “V” word Ã propos of nothing, of course. Representative Brown was proposing an amendment to the Republican Legislature’s newest abortion restriction bill that forbids late-term abortions, even for therapeutic purposes. Therapeutic is defined as being essential to the mother’s health. Her amendment would have allowed for therapeutic abortions without regard to the length of the pregnancy.
During floor debate Representative Brown said that her religion (she’s Jewish) permits therapeutic abortions, and asked why the GOP ‘Christians’ in the house were …insisting that she adopt their religious beliefs while she was not asking them to do the same. And then she said, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina. But, no means no.”
For the rest of Wednesday and all the next day, Stamas would not let her, or Representative Barb Byrum who introduced an amendment to require “…proof of a medical emergency or that a man’s life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy,” speak on the House floor. Thursday being the last day of the session before an extended break, the sanction meant that about 180,000 Michigan citizens were unrepresented in the debates about several major actions that occurred on that last day.
After a day and a half of relatively local uproar over a statement “…so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company,” according to a GOP House member (who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology), the entire controversy suddenly wasn’t about the “V” word at all. Stamas spokesman Ari Adler said the floor leader wasn’t upset about the “V” word. He was upset that Brown likened the abortion bill to rape when she said “No means no.”
Perhaps, but it’s self-evidently nonsense that it was the reason for the censure. After all, that certainly didn’t explain the censuring of Representative Bynum. An outraged gasp, followed by an explosive burst of soprano snickering was heard ’round the world.
Reports of the event, and pontificating editorials and columns appeared from Seattle to New York, and even in England, where a copy of Rep. Brown’s editorial entitled “My vagina monologue: what Michigan GOP lawmakers didn’t want to know,” appeared in the Guardian. One local newspaper, The Detroit News, published an editorial which questioned whether Representative Brown would have been sanctioned had she said “uterus” (probably the more correct term, biologically) instead of the “V”-word. The answer is most likely “No.”
In the latest twist, at least seven female legislators will join Representatives Brown and Byrum and many Michigan actresses in reading the play “The Vagina Monologues” in protest of the censuring on the Michigan Statehouse steps Monday, June 18. The protest will be joined by the play’s author, Eve Ensler. It would seem the “V” word will be used in Lansing a great deal in the next few days.
The entire contretemps was best summed up by Bill Ballinger, former Michigan legislator and Detroit Free Press “Inside Michigan Politics” editor: “Those comments were really over the top,” he said. “But the idea of muzzling an elected official is not only counterintuitive but outrageous.”