LANSING, Mich. – Ever since Lisa Brown sarcastically told fellow Michigan lawmakers that she was flattered by their interest in her private parts, her life has become a swirl of interviews, hugs, handshakes and a starring role in a performance of the The Vagina Monologues.
That was the craziest week of my life, said Brown, 45, a Democrat who on June 13 used the word vagina in opposing a bill to regulate abortion clinics more strictly. The next day, Republicans prevented her from speaking, along with fellow Democratic state Rep. Barb Byrum, who yelled vasectomy when her pleas to speak were ignored.
The one-day gag order has become a rallying point for Democrats who accuse Republicans, who dominate the state legislature, of trampling womens rights and free speech. Videos of Browns and Byrums statements have become fodder for bloggers, talk radio and cable television as lawmakers nationwide debate a record number of bills aimed at making abortions more difficult to obtain.
Battles over such laws have flared in 14 states this year, including Mississippi, Kansas, Arizona, Texas and Florida, according to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in Washington and the Guttmacher Institute. In 2011, a record 92 such bills passed, according to the nonpartisan New York institute, which studies reproductive rights.
The plain talk and brute politics played out June 13 in the ornate House chamber in the Capitol in Lansing, about 90 miles northwest of Detroit.
It was there that Brown told Republicans, Im flattered youre all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.
Byrum, 34, objected when she wasnt permitted to speak on an amendment she offered to allow vasectomies only in medical emergencies.
The next day, Republican Floor Leader Jim Stamas told Brown and Byrum that they couldnt speak. Brown and Byrum said they were never given reasons. Stamas didnt return telephone messages seeking comment.
Fanning Democrats outrage were House Republicans who called the womens floor comments temper tantrums, and compared silencing the two women to giving a kid a timeout for a day. Some cited Browns no means no remark, which they said compared support of the bill to rape.
The measure, which also makes it a crime to coerce a woman to abort a fetus, passed 70-39 and awaits consideration in the Senate.