As a state legislator, I have spoken out often and passionately on the things that matter most to me and my constituents. I have spoken out against the defunding of our public schools and against tax increases to middle-class families. So I was shocked to learn Thursday that the leadership of the Michigan House of Representatives had decided to silence me and keep me from doing my job because I had uttered the one word they couldn’t stand to hear: vagina.
Let me explain. The day before, we were debating a new anti-choice law that would over-regulate women’s health clinics to the point many could no longer offer abortions. It would require doctors to make the equivalent of funeral arrangements for foetal remains, both in the cases of abortion and miscarriage; and it would hinder women in rural areas or who don’t have transportation from getting early abortions by prohibiting doctors from prescribing abortion drugs by phone.
When it was my turn to talk, I explained my opposition to the bill. As a Jew, I said that I follow my faith’s teaching that when a pregnant woman’s health and life is at stake, it’s her life that comes first. As a member of a religious minority, I understand that not everyone shares my views, and I respect that. In turn, I asked that they not force their religious views on me. In closing, I told them that I was flattered in their interest in my vagina, but no means no.
Apparently, that was too much for House leadership to bear.
The next day, I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to speak on behalf of my constituents on the House floor. Thursday was the last day of session before legislators went home for the summer, and a lot of work was getting done. There were proposals on funding teacher pensions and reducing income taxes – issues my constituents find very important. But I wasn’t allowed to speak up for them. Because I had dared say “vagina” the day before.
To hear some talk about it, you’d think I’d said a dirty word. One of my counterparts, Representative Mike Callton (Republican–Nashville, Michigan) said he couldn’t even bear to repeat what I had said because it was “so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Callton, by the way, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology. Imagine what he went through in anatomy class.
If he thought the legislature was a safe refuge, he’s bound to be disappointed. At least three times, Michigan lawmakers have passed laws containing the dreaded V-word: once in describing body cavity searches, once in offering a legal description for birth, and another time in describing criminal sexual conduct.
Shouldn’t we be able to discuss body parts if we’re going to pass laws about them? Am I really to believe that my opposition is undone at the mere mention of a woman’s anatomy?
I don’t think so. I think what’s going on is even worse. Some legislators – mostly male – will go to great lengths not to hear women’s voices when it comes to legislating our health and catering to extreme special interests. They don’t want to hear us, and when we speak out anyway, they try to shut us down.
I’m not about to let them stop me. I wonder if they hear us now?