Earlier this week the Michigan State Legislature was debating a bill that would further restrict abortion. Speaking against the bill, Rep. Lisa Brown hit some fairly standard pro-choice talking points.
“I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?” (Brown is Jewish.)
“And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'”
Here’s the video in case you missed it:
What did happen next? Brown and another female representative, Barb Bryum who had introduced an amendment to the abortion bill that would only allow vasectomies to save the life of the man in question, were banned from speaking in the house at all for two days because they had “violated the decorum of the house.”
How did Brown violate the decorum of the house? She said “vagina.” According to Representative Mike Callton, “What she said was offensive. It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”
So if you were wondering why #Vagina, various nicknames for vaginas, and #VaginaMovieLines were all over Twitter Thursday and Friday, mystery solved. You’re welcome.
There has been much e-discussion about this. Maybe it was the ‘no means no’ joke at the end of Brown’s speech that got her banned. Since Byrum’s troll-y bill got her banned too, maybe the Michigan House is looking to elevate it’s level of discourse across the board. What does Mike Callton call vaginas in “mixed company?” Michigan house etiquette wise is it okay to characterize Callton’s remarks as out of touch and dickish but terribly offensive to call them out of touch and penis-ish?
All vagina jokes aside, to me the salient points are these: two women from one political party spoke up about an issue that distinctly impacts women. Men from another political party who disagreed with what the women had to say about their reproductive rights silenced them not just on this issue but on all issues.
I’m going to go ahead and assume the Michigan State House, like every other state house, is not a bastion of etiquette and decorum that rivals Buckingham Palace. If you want to raise the tone of legislative discourse, fine. More power to you. But censoring people who disagree with you is probably not the best way to go about doing that.
Abortion debates in state legislatures routinely become offensive and ridiculous. (Remember the legislator in Georgia who compared women to livestock?) Whether Brown or Bryum made their points in the most eloquent, classy, erudite way possible is therefore neither here nor there when it comes to their right to be heard.
It also doesn’t matter if you, I, or Mike Callton agree with what these women have to say or not. They have the right to say it and the right to speak out for their constituents in general. That’s the job of a representative, after all. Representing people by voicing their opinions and concerns. Even the opinions and concerns of people with vaginas who, let’s face it, are way more impacted by all things pregnancy related than people with penises so it’s especially troubling that women were silenced for speaking up on a quintessentially women’s issue.
So regardless of your opinions on reproductive rights the fact that female legislators were silenced for stating their views on abortion should piss you off. Especially if you a have a vagina.