Vagina-Gate — A Good Thing


By Sherry Lear, Co-Chair of Miss R*EVOLutionaries

I have a confession  — “V” is my new favorite letter of the alphabet.  For months, I have been wondering what it would take for the mainstream media to pay attention to the onslaught of legislative attacks on women’s reproductive health rights in this country.  Never in my wildest imagination did I expect that the words “vagina” and “vasectomy” would become a wake-up call.

Vaginagate.  National Vagina Day.  The Voting Vaginas. John Stewart jumped on the bandwagon.  Hell, even my husband (who I would never call an ardent feminist) recognizes it was ridiculous to punish a legislator for using the “V” word when talking about a bill which would severely limit access to abortions within the State of Michigan.

Even though the word “vagina” appears literally hundreds of times in statutes, bills, court opinions and Michigan governmental websites (you can do the google search yourself at vagina), Michigan House representative Lisa Brown was censured for using the word and barred from speaking on the floor the next day on a totally separate bill.

Barb Byrum (who used the word “vasectomy”) suffered the identical fate. Both women were accused of violating rules of decorum.  Michigan GOP legislator, Mike Calton was quoted:

“It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women.  I would not say that in mixed company.”

Wayne Schmidt, another GOP Michigan House member, likened the punishments issued to Brown and Byrum to giving a child a “timeout.” Are these men serious?

All joking aside, the most offensive part of all of this is actually the sweeping anti-abortion laws which Michigan is now considering passing.  House Bill 5711 is a 45-page piece of legislation; together with two shorter companion bills, it is the largest collection of pro-life legislation ever addressed at one time.

Planned Parenthood has described it as “the biggest assault on women’s health in [Michigan’s] history.”  The centerpiece would ban abortions 20 weeks after gestation, even in cases of rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is at stake.

The draconian measure is modeled after to “fetal pain” bills already passed in six states and being considered in several others. The results have already been tragic.

One compelling story is that of Danielle and Rob Deaver, from Nebraska. When Danielle’s water broke at 22 weeks, doctors informed her that due to undeveloped lungs, her daughter would not survive outside the womb. Yet, because of the Nebraska fetal pain law, her doctors could not induce labor as Danielle’s life was not in immediate risk. Danielle was forced to carry the baby, who was slowly being crushed by her uterus, to term. The baby died 15 minutes after she was born.

Under HB 5711, doctors must be physically present to perform a medication abortion, which would prevent a doctor from administering abortion-inducing medication via telephone or Internet consult, and severely limit access to abortion services for rural women.  The law would require abortion providers to carry $1 million in costly malpractice insurance while imposing multiple new regulations on abortion facilities, clearly and cleverly designed to regulate them out of existence.

Abortion providers must now meet the same standards as “ambulatory surgical centers,” a standard so high that it is anticipated to shut down nearly all abortion providers in the state, meaning that women whose lives are at stake will find it difficult if not impossible to obtain an abortion. If this law is passed, women will die unnecessarily. Now, that is truly offensive. This is why Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum stood on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives and spoke out. This is why thousands of men and women have protested at the Michigan Capital before and after the House vote to stand up for women’s reproductive rights.

Regardless of your personal views on abortion, it is important that the representatives we elect will be free to vigorously and passionately represent our views and concerns while issues are debated in session or on the floor of our legislatures. We are not immune to such concerns here in California. After all, it was Republican Darrell Issa, who represents Congressional District 49 which covers South Orange and North San Diego counties, who refused to allow Sandra Fluke to testify before Congress; and it was Republican Dan Lungren, who represents Congressional District 3, who initially refused to televise her testimony at the unofficial hearing put on by Democrats in response to the all-male panel organized by Issa.  Despite the outlash regarding Fluke, Issa still garnered 61 percent of the votes in his district’s June primary.  (Lungren’s race is much closer.)

All of this leads me to the most important “V” word of all:  VOTE.  It is more important than ever that everyone (not just women) take the time to get informed on the issues, and VOTE, not just in the upcoming presidential election but in midterms, primaries and every election where we have a chance to choose the officials that make policies and enact laws that affect every one of us.

Editor’s note:  Sherry Lear is an attorney and resident of San Pedro.  She serves on Janice Hahn’s Advisory Council on Women’s Issues and is Los Angeles co-chairwoman of Miss R*EVOLutionaries, a California-based women’s rights group.  This grassroots organization was launched with the April 28, 2012 nationwide rallies for “Unite Against the War on Women.” 


  1. Good, informative article, Sherry!
    It really is amazing that two words could cause such a storm. Lee Tilson – who works for PP in MI did an extensive search of Google, using vagina, vasectomy, Lisa Brown, Barb Byrum, and also MI court statutes. It’s stunning the number of times these words are used in legislation, debate, bills, court documents. And it shows exactly how hypocritical GOP is. It isn’t at all about the words – it’s that they’re denying women our rights then using justifications and excuses for their action of banning Brown and Byrum!



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