Mich. Lawmakers To Perform 'The Vagina Monologues' Outside Capitol To Protest Being Silenced During Abortion Bill Debate

June 18, 2012 — Nine Michigan legislators on Monday evening will join actresses from around the state to read the play "The Vagina Monologues" on the steps of the state Capitol after two female Democratic representatives on Thursday were banned from speaking in the chamber because of comments they made during debate over antiabortion legislation, the Detroit Free Press reports (Laitner, Detroit Free Press, 6/16).

Last week, state Rep. Lisa Brown (D) was gaveled out of order while speaking against a package of abortion bills (HB 5711, HB 5712, HB 5713). During the debate, Brown said, "I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no." State Rep. Barb Byrum (D) also was called out of order after she objected to being denied the chance to speak in support of her amendment, which would have required a man to provide proof of a medical emergency or a threat to his life before obtaining a vasectomy (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/15).

Joining Byrum and Brown in the production are state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and state Reps. Stacy Erwin Oakes (D), Dian Slavens (D), Rashida Tlaib (D), Vicki Barnett (D) and Joan Bauer (D). Playwright Eve Ensler also will be attending the event.

Whitmer said, "No one is throwing these words around (in the Legislature) without a rational context," adding, "If these men can't handle the debate about women's bodies, they shouldn't be taking away our rights," to abortion access (Detroit Free Press, 6/16).

New York Times Editorial on Antiabortion Bill

"Even at a time when extreme attacks on women's reproductive rights and freedom are nothing unusual, a sweeping measure on a fast track in Michigan's Republican-led State Legislature stands out," a New York Times editorial says in reference to HB 5711, which the state House passed on Wednesday (New York Times, 6/15).

The bill would increase insurance and licensing requirements for abortion providers and bar physicians from using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. The bill also would impose new requirements for disposing of fetal remains and require health providers to screen women to see if they had been coerced into seeking abortions (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/14).

According to the Times, the bill "contains several constitutionally questionable restrictions that add up to an egregious assault on safe abortion care and on the clinics that provide it," but it could have been worse if supporters had not removed a provision criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks. The issue could reappear, though, when the state Senate considers the bill, which is expected to happen in July, the editorial notes.

If Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs the bill, "he would be taking part in a shameful assault on reproductive health care" and it would "fall to the courts to stand up for Michigan's women and their legal rights," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 6/15).

Columnist Reacts to Silencing

"[H]ere's what really happened in the Michigan Legislature this week: Democracy was shut down," Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley writes, adding, "And women's voices were silenced." She writes, "If our state's other legislators, our voters and our patriots allow it, then we deserve what we get."

She calls the move by Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R) to silence the two lawmakers "a first." She quotes Bill Ballenger, legislative historian and Inside Politics editor, who said that "the idea of the controlling party, Republican or Democratic, censuring, in a sense, two of its members for speech, literally clamping down on their free-speech rights? It never happened and shouldn't happen," adding, "And, in my view, won't happen again" (Riley, Detroit Free Press, 6/16).