Abortion Rights in the US: Lisa Brown Proves Vagina Is a Dirty Word in Michigan

I am more than outraged. Who are these men who want to sew women’s lips? They include the leadership of the Michigan state legislature, who last week barred two women legislators from talking frankly about reproductive rights. This enlightened group -- who is not alone in this country -- was led by Michigan State Representative and Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R), Representative Mike Callton (R) and Speaker James (Jase) Bolger (R). While the thrust of their argument seems to pivot around language, their real aim is to turn the clock back to a time of unfettered male dominance.

These so-called political leaders not only want to control women’s bodies but also suppress their First Amendment rights to free speech. It’s politicians like these who are so bent on regulating a woman’s body, yet have opposed regulation of a financial system, that have brought havoc for the American economy and its people.

Almost two weeks ago, Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown said on the floor of the legislature, “I am flattered by your interest in my vagina, but no means no.” She was stating her opposition to HB 5711, the bill -- at the expense of a woman’s health -- would place more restrictive access and bureaucratic obstacles for abortion, such as coercive abortion screenings, physician liability, and rules for certain abortion facilities like Planned Parenthood.

State Representative Barb Byrum(D) was dealt the same blow with no explanation given and no sense of its duration. She believes that her dismissal was due to her proposed amendment to the anti-abortion bill that applied the same abortion rules to vasectomies. This happened on the last day of the legislative session when many bills including HB 5711 were scheduled for a vote. The proposed legislation passed 70-39.

This Michigan incident comes on the heels of a similar controversy like the one in Florida this past March when lawmaker, Scott Randolph (D), dared to use the word, “uterus” on the floor of the House and was told, albeit indirectly, that his use of the word was “inappropriate” in front of the young pages. The comment he made was that since the majority of the lawmakers were loathe to regulate business, he now understood that he would need to inform his wife so she could incorporate her uterus. His point was that by doing so, she could regulate her own body.

Sometimes, our anger is unleashed through humor. In response to the ludicrous behavior of the censors, the group the South Florida Raging Grannies came up with a uterus song to the tune of “Bye, Bye Blackbird.” Uterus buttons appeared.


The response by activists has spread. The Snatchel Project has announced their idea to have citizens send your legislators a gift of a colorful, knitted vagina or uterus, so that they can have their own -- and leave yours alone.

Lastly, Virginia would become the eighth state to require that women have probing, penetrating, and, sometimes, painful, ultrasounds before abortions and also be “offered” descriptions of the fetus.

As incidents like this multiply across the country, there is no question that we have taken a giant leap backwards. The flow of this non-stop hurricane of anti-women’s legislation passed across the country is frightening.

While decent people can have different views on abortion, these incidents in the hallowed halls of legislatures across the country reflect the general coarsening of political debate. Silencing voices they don’t want to hear by throwing insults and gaveling down words sound like kindergarten behavior all over again.

Rather than Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum being censored and thrown out, these Michigan legislators need to be censured, suspended now or thrown out when their two-year terms end and they are up for reelection. 

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Ann Jackowitz

Ann Jackowitz writes and lectures on social injustice, gender inequality, LGBT issues, minority women including Jewish women, fundraising (with years as a senior exec at non-profit organizations) and breast cancer advocacy (she represented SHARE on the NBCC's board. of directors) She has produced films and written on "Anna O," an early inspiration for Freud's use of the "talking cure."

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