Two female US politicians were banned from addressing the Michigan house of representatives after one used the word "vagina" and the other tried to argue for regulating vasectomies during a debate over a controversial anti-abortion bill.
The house bill, which was passed by 70 votes to 39, will introduce new rules and insurance requirements for abortion providers, make it an offence to force a woman to have an abortion, and regulate the disposal of foetal remains.
It is part of a package of proposed legislation that has been described by critics as one of the most hardline recent attempts at passing anti-abortion legislation in the US.
Lisa Brown – the Democratic state representative for West Bloomfield in Michigan – found herself gagged after house Republicans took exception to her language.
Brown, who has three children, said that the bill's proposals ran contrary to her Jewish beliefs. But it was the manner in which how she concluded her speech: on Wednesday that infuriated Republicans.
"Mr Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but 'no' means 'no,'" she said.
Her use of the word "vagina" led house Republicans to prohibit her from speaking on school employee retirement bill.Brown then called a press conference and demanded: "If I can't say the word vagina, why are we legislating [on] vaginas?" she asked. "What language should I use?" If you think this is a fluke, think again. Another woman legislator was banned from speaking, too:
Barb Byrum, the a fellow Democratic state representative for Onondaga, also caused a disturbance on the floor of the house after Republicans refused to allow her to introduce an amendment to the bill that would ban men having vasectomies unless the procedure was needed to save their lives – a key clause of the anti-abortion bill. She was ruled out of order after protesting that she had not been allowed to speak on her proposal. "If we truly want to make sure children are born, we would regulate vasectomies," Byrum told reporters.
On Thursday, Ari Adler, a spokesman for the Republican speaker of the house, said Brown and Byrum would not be allowed to speak on the floor of the house that day because of their conduct on Wednesday. Their "comments and actions", he said, had "failed to maintain the decorum of the house of representatives".
However, both women hit back at house Republicans, accusing them of censorship and misogyny. "Both Representative Byrum and I were gavelled down without cause yesterday while voicing our opposition to the Republican's war on women here in Michigan," Brown told the Detroit Free Press. "Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office." Byrum said she had been ignored and prevented from speaking on an amendment that would hold men and women to the same reproductive standards.This tactic of insisting that officious governmental control of deeply personal decisions and choices be applied in some way (though usually much more mildly) to men whenever it is applied to women-- a tactic we're seeing in state legislatures more and more these days-- is, in my opinion, brilliant. It demonstrates graphically just what the politics of such legislation is about. Look! they are saying. Women, like men, have an interest in reproductive freedom! If you're going to take this prerogative away from women, then you're also going to have to take it away from men. Is that what you really want?
And that linkage is just what the Republicans don't want to allow into the public sphere (much less the public record). You can tell just how desperate these people are to keep such a comparison out of people's minds. (After all, the propaganda has always been about appealing to people's emotional identification with embryos and fetuses rather than with the women who must risk their lives and human potential to gestate, bear, and raise them.) It is no surprise that banning speech that illuminates just how vicious these attacks on women are has become a desperate strategy for maintaining the momentum of the relentless Republican campaign to dehumanize women. It's a fitting irony that controlling who can talk about women's vaginas and uteri is both tactical as well as perfectly symbolic of the Republicans' campaign as a whole.