When Lisa Brown made her “vagina” comment this month to the Michigan House of Representatives, I must admit, I was pretty stoked. Finally, someone had the guts to speak out for women who didn’t want men making choices about their bodies. As a pro-choice woman, I thought Brown’s move was gutsy, smart, and frankly, funny. When making her remarks to Congress about legislation pertaining to abortion, she asserted, “I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”
Brown was silenced the next day, along with Representative Barb Byrum, from speaking on any issue on Congress’s last day before the summer, presumably for foul language. Mike Callton, a Republican from Nashville told the Detroit News, "What she said was offensive. It was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company." Adding to the fire, the women were accused of having a “temper tantrum.”
Regardless of what you believe, using a medically correct term for a body part that relates to a piece of legislation that dictates the options available to said body part should be acceptable in any state legislation in the United States. Yes, decorum is important, as is intonation and intent, but really, Representative Brown was making a legitimate point in a legitimate forum: perhaps those who are debating abortion – an act that concerns women’s bodies - should consider suggestions offered by women. Comparing Brown’s comment to a “temper tantrum” intimates that Brown is acting as a child, making her occur as beneath her male counterparts.
There are plenty of examples of politicians being far more appalling than saying a medical term. Senator Strom Thurmand’s 1957 record-breaking filibustering, during which he attempted to derail the passing of the Civil Rights Act is far more disturbing than Brown’s comment. Yet, all he was serving for was over 40 years in the U.S Senate.
However, despite my respect for Brown’s candor, there was something about her controversial speech I truly didn’t like. Brown used the example of Judaism throughout her speech and said that since Judaism permits abortions to save the life of the mother that an anti-abortion law infringes on her religious beliefs. She then, in later interviews and articles, comments that if it wasn’t the vagina comment that got her silenced from speaking, then it had to be her Judaism.
Don’t get me wrong — the separation between church and state is not only a necessary creed in the United States, but a moral one that has made the country what it is today. However, freedom of religion isn’t the main issue: the main issue is legislating women’s bodies.
While Brown may have been making a point in order to make others understand her argument, she risks too much by using Judaism as an example. First, she threatens alienating other Jews who don’t appreciate her use of Judaism’s arguments. For example, as a recent Slate article published that among Orthodox families, there’s a strong social stigma associated with abortions. Second, Brown then weakens what is essentially the crux of her argument, that there be no legal regulation on women’s bodies, especially considering there is no debate whatsoever on similar legislation for men (which, by the way was the reason Representative Byrum was silenced — for suggesting the legislation of vasectomies). By linking Judaism into her arguments, Brown is unsuccessfully bringing religion into the debate, the very subject she tried to avoid.
Let’s leave Judaism out of it. There are far too many opinions to be able to state definitively what Jewish law says, and there are far too many Jews with varying opinions on legalities of abortion to legislate against abortion using Judaism as a reason. Instead, let’s embrace frankness and call the law what it is: the legislation against freedom of vagina.
Yael Miller is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
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