Michigan State Representative Banned from Speaking in Legislature after Using Word “Vagina”

Monday, June 18, 2012
State Rep. Lisa Brown
Michigan’s Republican state legislators are apparently very sensitive folks, at least when it comes to words describing female sexual anatomy. Last week, during a debate over a proposed law that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks with no exceptions for the woman’s health, State Representative Lisa Brown (Dem.-West Bloomfield) concluded her impassioned floor speech against the bill by saying, “Finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”
Supposedly terribly offended, Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (Rep.-Midland) decided that Brown’s word choice violated the decorum of the House and banned her from speaking on the floor until further notice. Although Stamas has avoided commenting publicly on the incident, State Representative Mike Callton (Rep.-Nashville) claimed that “It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”
As Brown and others have pointed out, however, “vagina” is the medically correct term; all other alternatives—and there are many—are necessarily less proper, and most are considered obscene. As Brown later asked rhetorically, “What word should I have said?”
The word “vagina” is now regularly used on broadcast television, and online searches of the Congressional Record for the past five sessions reveal that the word was used at least 29 times on the floor of the House or Senate over past ten years. No one objected in any of these cases, and the ability of Congress to do its job was not affected.
In a related development, House Republicans prevented State Representative Barb Byrum, also a pro-choice Democrat, from speaking on the House floor. Byrum, who is sponsoring a bill banning vasectomies unless the man’s life is in danger, spoke out of turn after failing to be recognized by the House Speaker, which is an offense against decorum, although punishments for its violation are rare.
Brown will try to use art to get her point across on Monday, as she and other Michigan Senators and Representatives will be joined by Tony Award winning playwright Eve Ensler for a special performance of Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” on the steps of the Michigan Capitol.
- Matt Bewig
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