Last week, Michigan state Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum were banned from speaking on the floor by Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas. The Michigan House was debating a package of three anti-choice bills that represent an unprecedented assault on reproductive rights. During this debate, these two female representatives made the mistake of using the terms “vagina” and “vasectomy,” respectively.
According to NPR, Stamas found Brown’s statement, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,’” to be a violation of decorum. Evidently, discussing vaginas in a debate about abortion, which inherently involves vaginas, is out of order. According to The Week, Stamas claims Brown was actually censured because the “’no’ means ‘no’” comment likens the bill to rape.
But the women of Michigan are fighting back. Yesterday thousands showed up at the capitol to participate in a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” in protest. Participants included Rep. Brown, several other state lawmakers, and Eve Ensler, the award-winning author of the play. According to the Huffington Post, over 5,000 Michiganders attended the event.
The bill that passed the Michigan House last week is an omnibus bill that outlaws abortion after 20 weeks, and requires women who want to take a morning-after pill to do so in the presence of a doctor. It also implements stricter insurance laws which, according to the Huffington Post, may cause some women’s health clinics to close. The bill passed 70 to 39. Supporters of the bill claim that these restrictions make abortions safer for women, but women’s health and rights advocates argue that bills like this only serve to limit access to an already safe medical procedure.
No one should be barred from saying anatomically correct words related to the human form in a legislative body, especially when they are relevant to the debate. Brown’s word choice was not profane, nor was Byrum’s. If you are not allowed to use correct terms to debate important issues, how can the debate be substantive?
Leading up to the protest, Ensler told the Associated Press, “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion… was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men’s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”