Claiming an opponent has violated a sacred rule of decorum is a time-honored and effective way of discrediting that person in the eyes of an audience used to deferring to authority and tradition. That’s exactly what Michigan’s House Republicans did to Rep. Lisa Brown this week.
A prude pack of the Mitten State’s conservative legislators barred Brown, a Democrat, from taking the floor Thursday after she ended a Wednesday speech against a package of anti-abortion proposals by referencing her vagina.
“Finally, Mr. Speaker,” Brown said Wednesday. “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’ ”
The playful twist fell dead on the ears of her Republican colleagues.
In a news conference held after the decision forced Brown to take a timeout, the representative offered: “Maybe they are banning me because I dared say ‘vagina,’ the correct, medical name of a part of a woman’s anatomy these lawmakers are trying to regulate. I’m outraged. I’m outraged that this legislative body not only wants to dictate what women can do, but what we can say.”
It has not been revealed exactly why Brown was banned from the Legislature on Thursday. Rep. Mike Callton indignantly remarked: “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women.”
A spokesman for the House speaker, Jase Bolger, said of the decision: “It was inappropriate in the way [the word ‘vagina’] was used during a floor speech and that’s his decision to make. We have passionate debates on the House floor. The only way to continue doing so is to maintain civility.”
“Civility,” of course, is a foggy matter, as what is polite and courteous in any place is largely a function of prevailing local values. Referencing one’s genitals apparently falls under the category of improper in the Michigan Legislature and is grounds for excluding any offenders from speaking about legal matters in subsequent debates.
The bill Brown protested passed the chamber after the close of her speech. The vote was 70 to 39 with all 64 Republicans and six Democrats voting in favor. If it passes the Senate, what Think Progress has called “the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill” would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape and incest, and would require doctors to investigate whether patients had been coerced into pursuing an abortion. It would require doctors to be present for the procedures, which means another hurdle for rural women who have to travel long distances to see specialists. Doctors would be required to buy costly malpractice insurance and some clinics would be regulated “out of existence,” as any office that advertises abortion services or provides six or more abortions per month would be required to purchase and stock the equipment used in surgical abortions, even if clinics do not conduct that sort of procedure.
Decency toward others in speech is one thing. Decency in matters of women’s health and well-being is another. For standing up for the sort of civility that matters, we honor Brown as our Truthdigger of the Week.
Hear her speech yourself below.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly. Follow him on Twitter: @areedkelly.