Roe v. Wade 40th Anniversary

06.14.12

Lawmaker Banned From Speaking After Referring to Her Vagina in Abortion Debate

Rep. Lisa Brown talks to the Daily Beast’s Allison Yarrow about her controversial floor speech.

Two female state representatives were banned from speaking on the Michigan House floor Thursday, one for invoking her “vagina” in an earlier floor debate about abortion.

Video screenshot

Rep. Lisa Brown's controversial speech on the floor of the House

“Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested my vagina, but no means no,” Rep. Lisa Brown said Wednesday as she argued against the 45-page House Bill 5711, which later passed the chamber and would regulate abortion and provider clinics so stringently that Brown says many will simply close.

Thursday, she was banned from speaking on the floor.

“If I said 'elbow' would I have gotten in trouble?” the West Bloomfield Democrat rhetorically asked the Daily Beast. “If you’re regulating vaginas, I don’t know how we’re supposed to not talk about them.”

Brown said that the Republican leadership did not tell her why she was banned. In her brief floor remarks Wednesday, she also explained that as a Jewish woman, she chooses to keep kosher in her home, and that she also abided by the Jewish tenet dating back to the biblical era that “abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissible, but mandatory.”

Brown said rhetorically that she might never know whether she was banned for being Jewish, saying “vagina,” or both.

Brown was not sanctioned based on the subject matter or her religion but because of the context of her remarks, according to a spokesman for Grand Rapids Republican Jase Bolger, the House speaker.

“It was inappropriate in the way it was used during a floor speech and that’s his decision to make,” spokesman Ari Adler said of the speaker’s crackdown. “We have passionate debates on the House floor. The only way to continue doing so is to maintain civility.” He added that plenty of other women in House were being allowed to speak. He did not elaborate on how, exactly, the context was inappropriate.

Thursday is the final day of Michigan’s House session, so a good deal of business is being conducted while the two women take their time out. As vice chair of the education committee, Brown had wished to speak on a bill debated today about Michigan educators’ retirement packages.

A second female Democrat, Barb Byrum of Onondaga, was also gaveled and banned from talking today, but her crime was speaking out of turn. She had wanted to share her proposed amendment to the bill—that vasectomies be regulated similarly to the abortions in question. She asked to be recognized, and called out for attention when she was not acknowledged, at which point she continued to speak.

Adler said she was punished because she “threw a temper tantrum on the House floor.”

The abortion bill passed the House yesterday 70-39 with all 64 Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor.

“If I said 'elbow' would I have gotten in trouble?” the West Bloomfield Democrat rhetorically asked the Daily Beast. “If you’re regulating vaginas, I don’t know how we’re supposed to not talk about them.”

The bill, which Michigan’s Senate won’t likely see until the fall, was called the country’s worst by liberal advocacy group Think Progress, which said its exorbitant insurance costs and unnecessary licenses and oversight will virtually “regulate clinics out of existence.”

If it passes the Senate and is signed into law, Michigan would join the eight states that ban abortion at around 20 weeks. Its bill would also apply to rape and incest victims. Even Arizona’s 20-week ban, considered one of the country’s most restrictive, exempts victims of rape or incest.

“What word would they prefer I use?” asked Brown. “It’s the medically, anatomically correct word. I’m not going to insult women by using some slang. We’re adults in this chamber. 

“It doesn’t say in [the] House rules that you can’t say vagina.”