In a strictly literal world, the constitutional amendment that advocates the right to free speech would let slip by statements that impeded upon beloved patriotism, threats posed on national security or public safety, and profanities that span from mild to extreme. Fortunately, a fine albeit controversial line is drawn between what is acceptably opinionated and what categorizes as exempt from the famed amendment, keeping ‘free speech’ within the general range of morality. The Michigan House of Representatives, particularly Republicans, however, drew this line over delicate social issues when they banned Democratic Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown as well as Barb Byrum for saying the scientifically correct terms, “vagina” and “vasectomy,” respectively.
Brown and Byrum were speaking in reaction to the recently passed Michigan anti-choice ‘super bill’ by the Republicans of the Michigan House, which the columnist Chloe of Feministing dubbed the “Chubby Hubby of anti-choice bills”, a cheeky nickname that translates to a mash-up of some of the worst components of anti-choice bills that collaboratively create the governmental equivalent to the worst-imaginably-tasting ice cream. This forty-five-paged bill was passed after a mere twenty minutes of debate, and is expected to take effect in September. Its regulations include new TRAP laws, stricter regulations for clinics, a prohibition of women after 20 weeks of pregnancy to have an abortion except to save her life, and a ban on IU4-86, the abortion pill.
Taking a stand on behalf of the unrepresented group of women silenced from the debate over this anti-abortion legislation recently passed, Brown concluded her speech about the religious impediments of the bill, particularly because she is Jewish, by saying, “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I know you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”
The bill in debate is a written by Right to Life, and has an aim towards … In an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC about her thoughts about and the general reaction to the ban and the bill, Brown says, “In fact, one of my Republican colleagues commented that he hopes this bill would put an end to abortion.” A very valid point is brought up by Harris-Perry in questioning the relationship of anti-abortive legislation to economic and political issues of Republican and Tea Party politicians. It edges on economic issues, especially because clinicians will be scarce and those on the countryside would need to take time out of their workday, etc., in order to get their abortion pill, and much more.
Yet, what seems to be the Michigan board’s attempt to stifle the problem by focusing on the arbitrary has proved a testament to the struggle for women’s rights, despite the seemingly revolutionary progression. By silencing them from speaking, even if, as the House Republicans claim, it was only for the next day’s session, is a counterproductive as well as an attempt to keep a firm grip on the situation. Instead of focusing on what they perhaps consider vulgarity, preserving what they believe is the sanctity of their courtrooms, actually addressing the opposition from the very group that this bill shall effect would be the wiser, more mature reaction to these words that, to be quite honest, are as natural and prevalent as the biological structure and the procedure themselves.
The reaction to their ban incited support from Planned Parenthood and The Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, whose 650 members, according to Kathy Barks Hoffman of the Associated Press includes men. From the representatives themselves, their reaction was a performance of the play, “Vagina Monologues,” written about Eve Ensler 16 years ago, taking place on the Statehouse steps, which drew as many as 2,500 spectators according to capitol facilities director Steve Benkovsky.
Such widespread interest in the House’s decision is throwing fire to the ever-kindled flame of the fight for abortion rights by women. Despite the House’s claim that they banned Brown and Byrum not for saying “vagina,” but for comparing the bill to rape, their decision seemed to sully rather than keep the ‘decorum’ of the House. The fight against the regulation of the control women have over their own bodies and decisions deserves the attention it is receiving. If so concerned about the decisions these women are making, the House should focus on putting their money towards counseling and educating the worried, possible mother-to-be rather than aiming for the impossible goal of regulating who should have this procedure in the first place.
However women may find ways to continuously combat this bill, as modern women are wont to do, it is a testament to the history of abortion that spans an intricate web of tension, malice, political debate, and most importantly, the decision of the individual. It is impossible to determine whether inner prejudice elicited the decision, and/or whether an honest distaste for such vocabulary caused the drastic measure. Either possibility does not eliminate the fact that the advocate for women’s rights was snubbed before addressing the problem at hand, or reevaluating such drastic legislation. The House only succeeded in making a deeper jab in the jarringly prevalent issue of women’s rights today. In short, these representatives succeeded not only in silencing the voice of Ms. Lisa Brown and Ms. Barb Byrum, but also of the silenced multitude of Michigan women, directly affected by the stringent and unfair regulations on a woman’s personal decision to bear life.
Here is the actual bill, for anyone interested in its content in its entirety: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(zah4arjfveuj32i0ou5tupji))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=2012-HB-5711