Democratic State Rep. Lisa Brown won some local notoriety, and a temporary speaking ban from the Republican-controlled Michigan House of Representatives for invoking “my vagina” during a passionate floor speech in defense of abortion rights Wednesday.
But for all the notice it garnered, Brown’s bodily personalization of the issue was just part of her broader religious personalization of the issue. Brown, who represents the heavily Jewish West Bloomfield area outside of Detroit, took to the statehouse podium to oppose a series of bills that would, via regulation, make abortion much harder to obtain. Her gasp-inducing reference to her genitals came at the tail end of a dramatic thumbnail rendition of her life as a practicing Jew.
“Yesterday we heard the representative from Holland [Mich.] speak about religious freedom,” Brown told her fellow lawmakers. Putting her right hand on her chest, she declared, “I’m Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. I have two sets of dishes—one for meat and one for dairy, and another two sets of dishes on top of that, for Passover.”
With a slight tremble in her voice, Brown lectured: “Judaism believes that therapeutic abortions, namely abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother are not only permissible, but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there’s a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as human life does not equal that of the mother.
“I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs,” Brown said. “Why are you asking me to adopt yours? Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means no!”
Ari Adler, a spokesman for the Republican majority, announced Thursday morning that Brown would be banned from speaking from the House floor that day for failing “to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives.”
An unbowed Brown shot back, “If I can’t say the word ‘vagina,’ why are we legislating vaginas? What language should I use?….We’re all adults here.”
Speaking at a hastily convened press conference, Brown noted that “vagina” is the “medically correct term.”
Michigan-based Debbie Schlussel, a right-wing blogger who opines often on Jewish topics, condemned the 45-year-old Brown as a “biotch.” Schlussel wrote that Brown “had the indecency to cite Jewish law on abortion and talk about how she keeps kosher. Um, Lisa, do NOT use Judaism to justify your pro-abortion conniptions and far left bulldung.”
In 1990 Schlussel narrowly lost a race for the same district house seat that Brown first won in 2008.
Larry Cohler-Esses was the Forward’s assistant managing editor and news editor. He joined the staff in December 2008. Previously, he served as Editor-at-Large for the Jewish Week, an investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, and as a staff writer for the Jewish Week as well as the Washington Jewish Week. Larry has written extensively on the Arab-Jewish relations both in the United States and the Middle East. His articles have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists, the Religious Newswriters Association, the New York Press Association and the Rockower Awards for Jewish Journalism, among others.