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Abortion bill content deserves more attention

June 24, 2012


Photo by Justin Wan | and Justin Wan The State News

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

Earlier this month, Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, was barred from speaking in the Michigan House of Representatives after she used the word “vagina.” At this point, many people are aware of the story, but few have looked deeper into this most recent example of embarrassing, frivolous debate by lawmakers. Because of this “vagina controversy,” attention and rational thinking have been taken away from this debate and have reinterpreted reality.

I am hearing it everywhere, even from people who don’t even know the whole story, that this controversy arose because two female House representatives used blunt language, and the male Republicans, naturally looking for any excuse to remove the opposition, did not allow them to speak further. To hear all this makes me alternate between rolling my eyes and face-palming. Although I am relieved this simply is a gross misrepresentation of the facts — and, fortunately, not the truth — I can’t deny that this absurd version of the story, which has fooled so many people, makes me a little annoyed.

I was first vaguely aware of this occurrence when I noticed a poll on the main page of The State News website. The question was “Do you think state representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum deserved to be silenced on the House floor?” Without even knowing what it was about, I was pleased to see 100% said no at the time. Despite what many commenters on the website believe, interfering with someone’s right to free speech is one of the most un-American actions possible and should never occur. It is for this reason, when I actually found out why Brown was silenced, I still was on her side.

Although I support a woman’s decision to have an abortion and am opposed to excessive regulation, I did have a few problems with her logic, as well as her approach. Before she went out of her way to mention “vagina,” she brought up her main complaints with the bill.

She claimed the bill was an unfair step that would require “exorbitant policies to be purchased, which would result in clinics closing doors, causing people to lose their jobs.” On March 29, Brown voted yes on legislation that would force health care providers to cover autism treatments. Without doing too much research about that legislation’s consequences, I have to say I don’t really have a problem with her vote — autism is horrible, and it should not be excluded. However, if she supported health care regulation then, she should support it now.

Watching the recording, I related to her comparison between her religious beliefs and Christianity — the religion of the majority of the House and the religion behind most anti-abortion legislation.

“I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?” she said.

If she had stopped here, she would have made a fair and valid point: just because one religion (vaguely) classifies abortion as murder, it does not mean another one does. If a law is based (albeit unofficially) on one religion, why should any citizen of another faith have to follow it?

However, Brown apparently did not feel she had said enough and had to add in what best could be described as an unnecessarily aggressive tone: “And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

At this point, the speaker of the House gaveled her off of the floor and forbade her from speaking. While many people might consider her comparisons between Judaism and abortion irrelevant, I can see her point. What I cannot understand is the purpose of the second half of her comment. At best, Brown is trying to get attention. At worst, she is making an allusion toward rape by evoking the mantra of every sex education class.

After reading the bill cover to cover, not once was the term ‘vagina’ mentioned, and at no point did the writers of the bill indicate they were interested in a vagina, be it Brown’s or any other woman’s. A point of clarification for this bill: it is not a “super bill,” it is 45 pages, it does not restrict abortions, it does not force women to see graphic pictures, it does what is says it does: protects a woman’s safety. I encourage everyone to read it before saying one more thing in support or in opposition to the bill.

Admittedly, I read the bill to be sure of my assumption that vagina was not mentioned. However, after reading the bill, not only was I correct about the lack of language referring to genitalia, but I did not find any of Brown’s complaints or that of her colleagues. I am not even sure she or anyone else opposing this bill read it. The key points are below:

It regulates business, but only to make sure the doctor performing the abortion meets health code and legal standards. It does not discourage women from an abortion or make it more difficult for them to receive proper care. Rather, the bill guarantees women will receive not only proper care, but that they receive all the information they need to make an informed decision. This can be construed to say that they will be dissuaded from an abortion; however, the bill clearly states a woman has the right to decline the available information.

On the topic of dissuasion, the bill also protects a woman’s safety by ensuring she is not being pressured by anyone. This includes the doctor, relatives, counselors or the partner. Furthermore, if the doctor performing the abortion becomes aware of domestic abuse, they are obligated to report it.

Finally, though the doctor must follow strict mandates before performing the procedure; they can be nullified if the woman’s safety is immediately in danger. Not only does this go directly against the opposition’s main point that legislatures do not care about a woman’s health or safety, but in this way, the bill actually makes abortion easier. This bill is not about putting restrictions on vaginas, as Brown believes, but it is about putting restrictions on doctors.

Brown is defending her actions by claiming vagina is the “anatomically, medically correct term.” She is right in saying that, but that defense reminds me of a child who shoves his finger an inch in front of someone’s face and defends himself by saying, “Well, I wasn’t touching him.”

If one watched a video of Brown speaking, one can see she did not innocently mention vagina while talking about the bill. She went out of her way to use a term not used in the House simply to make a point because she thought she could get away with it.

She also could have said vagina because she knew this would happen … because she was chastised by the speaker and she has reached national headlines, thus gaining attention she would not have otherwise gotten. Because she was not allowed to speak the following day due to her language, she is being portrayed, by herself and the media, as a poor woman who tried to stand up to the powerful men and was punished for it.

After “The Vagina Monologues” was performed as a protest on the Capitol lawn, Rep. Lisa Brown was quoted saying, “I’m so overwhelmed. Who would have thought one little floor speech would end in this?” I think I have an answer to that: she did. I think she knew exactly what would happen when she spoke out on the House floor. Although I support Brown’s position and do not believe her language merited censorship, she clearly was looking for a reaction. The fact that she received it is what really disappoints me.

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Brown oversimplified the debate over the bill: “We shouldn’t be legislating vaginas if [you] can’t say vaginas. What language should I use? … We’re all adults here.” This bill is about a woman’s and the fetus’ health, not a vagina’s health. No one is interested in her vagina. As for her question over her language, I would recommend she stick to what the bill is about, rather than making impassioned statements about things that aren’t even mentioned in the bill.

Finally, as my mother always tells me, “If you’re an adult, act like it.” I recommend the same for Brown, an MSU graduate, not only so real progress can be made, but so the Michigan House does not look like a joke to the nation.

Jameson Joyce is a guest columnist at The State News and a James Madison sophomore. Reach him at


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