Last week, Michigan House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas barred two female legislators from commenting from the House floor after they raised criticisms about a bill restricting the use of abortions.
Stamas took offense at fellow state Rep. Barb Byrum introducing an amendment to an anti-abortion bill that would ban men from receiving vasectomy procedures unless sterilization was necessary to save a man’s life. Stamas claimed that Byrum was having a “temper tantrum” while she tried to be recognized prior to the vote on the bill.
Stamas also refused to recognize Rep. Lisa Brown’s right to speak from the floor after Brown used the word “vagina” in her comments.
“I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,’” Brown said.
Stamas felt that comment violated the decorum of the House so badly that Brown must be punished by silencing her.
As Brian Dickerson from the Detroit Free-Press stated, Stamas’ actions were the “legislative equivalent of a time-out.” Stamas did not even extend the courtesy of telling Brown and Byrum that they were in a time-out until they tried to speak later.
Brown said she found out she had been banned from participating in the House’s final session before its summer break when she tried to speak against a bill that would change retirement benefits for teachers. Byrum learned she had similarly been muzzled when Republican leaders refused to extend the standard courtesy of allowing her to introduce a group of constituents watching Thursday’s proceedings.
For her part, Brown noted that vagina is an “anatomically medically correct term.”
“If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it,” Brown said.
Much has been made of a war on women by conservative lawmakers. Some of that can be dismissed as an exaggeration. However, when male lawmakers like Stamas exert themselves into issues like abortion and then forbid a female lawmaker from speaking because she has the audacity to use the word “vagina,” then that “war” has to be taken seriously. Add in that Byrum was prohibited from speaking from the floor after attempting to introduce an amendment limiting vasectomies, and the overtone of a political war between the sexes is hard to dismiss.
It is particularly disturbing that on a bill to regulate what women can do to their bodies, women are also regulated on what they can say. War on women? Quite possibly. It is also a war on democracy. When legislators are banned from speaking on issues because a majority is offended by their comments, the principle of democracy is jeopardized. Legislatures are supposed to be open forums for debate, not chambers of puritan morality.
As violating the decorum of legislatures goes, this is rather mild. More likely, Stamas was upset that he was mentioned in the same breath as the word vagina. Stamas was not alone in his uptightness either.
“‘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.’”
Mixed company? Apparently, Callton thinks that a couple of dozen women being in the Michigan House with four times as many men creates a socially inappropriate forum for talking about genitalia.
Lawmakers like Stamas and Callton need to grow up and realize that they are adults debating adult issues, not third graders giggling in the corner when girl parts are mentioned. Perhaps next time, these legislators can request that all the women leave the House floor when legislation regulating the female body arises. That way the men can decide what needs to be done about women’s bodies without women interrupting them.