Nel's New Day

June 15, 2012

Republicans Try to Silence Women–Again

Republicans continue to show their disdain for women with the Michigan state House of Representatives providing the most recent prime example of males’ determination to silence women. The issue surrounded the most vicious attack on women’s reproductive rights to date that is contained in one bill:  HB 5711 bans abortions past 20 weeks with no exception for rape victims, the health of the pregnant woman, or fatal fetal anomalies.  It contains language regarding prohibitive insurance and licensing requirements for clinics performing abortions, requiring them to have surgery rooms even if they perform surgeries and requiring doctors to be present for medication abortions. Other provisions would screen women for “coercion” before an abortion, make it a crime to “coerce” a woman into having an abortion, create new guidelines on disposing fetal remains, and excessively regulate prescriptions of RU-486. The bill would also amend Michigan’s Public Health code to restrict and regulate abortion in the state.

During the bill’s debate, two Democrat representatives—both women—vigorously protested HB 5711. The House Speaker then told them they would not be recognized during debate the next day, which was the last day of the session before the summer recess. Michigan lawmakers have never before been formally barred from participating in floor debates.

Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) was gaveled out of order after she protested when she wasn’t allowed to speak on her amendment, which would have required proof of a medical emergency or that a man’s life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy.

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) lost her speaking privileges because she said, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina,” she said, “but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

“What she said was offensive,” said Rep. Mike Callton (R-Nashville). “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Evidently men are willing to make laws about women’s vaginas, but not use the word.

Brown also argued that the abortion regulation bill would violate her Jewish faith. “I have not asked you to adopt and to adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?” Brown asked. Her reference was to the Jewish tenet dating back to the biblical era that “abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissible, but mandatory.”

Former legislator Bill Ballenger said he was surprised by comments during the debate, including a suggestion from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) that women withhold sex from their partners until such abortion-limiting bills stopped being considered. Tlaib was not hushed. “Those comments were really over the top,” Ballenger said. “But the idea of muzzling an elected official is not only counterintuitive but outrageous.”

“There have been many occasions of inappropriate behavior by men on the floor, and they haven’t lost their voice,” Brown said. “I was speaking to the bill at hand, I didn’t use any curse words and I was using anatomically correct language.”

In a statement, Brown said, “I was either banned for being Jewish and rightfully pointing out that House Bill 5711 was forcing contradictory religious beliefs upon me and any other religion. Or it is because I said the word ‘vagina’ which is an anatomically, medically correct term. If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it.” Ari Adler, a spokesman for Republican Speaker Pro Tem John Walsh, said Brown was called out of order for saying “no means no,” suggesting that Brown compared the abortion legislation to rape.

Before the 60-page bill was approved in committee, almost 100 people showed up at a hearing to testify against it. Committee Chair Gail Haines (R-Waterford) ended the hearing and cut off all testimony after a Michigan Right to Life spokesperson and a few others in support of the bill testified. The bill passed the house 70-39; in September it goes to the senate which has a Republican majority of 64-46.

State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) told a local television station on Wednesday that he supports the bill and hopes it will end abortion in Michigan. That’s the goal of lawmakers. Abortion is legal, according to the Supreme Court; Republicans want to circumvent this law. They also want to silence all women who disagree with them.

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