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A controversy is born after 2 Michigan lawmakers' comments in abortion debate

9:39 AM, Jun 15, 2012   |    comments
State Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, left, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga, were scolded over their remarks related to abortion. (photos courtesy Detroit Free Press)
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Detroit, Mich. (Free Press) -- The debate over proposed new abortion regulations in Michigan's state House was heated, loud, even graphic, with words like "vagina," "vasectomy" and "stirrups" being mentioned.

The words didn't stop passage of the legislation, but they did get two Democratic lawmakers -- state Reps. Lisa Brown of West Bloomfield and Barb Byrum of Onondaga -- silenced Thursday from speaking about any issue before the House on its final day of session before the Legislature's summer break.

Brown and Byrum were told they wouldn't be recognized to speak because of comments they made Wednesday during the emotional abortion-rights debate.

Brown found out when she tried to speak on a bill that would change retirement benefits on teachers. Byrum wanted to introduce a group of visitors from her district who were watching the session. She was told she couldn't speak.

What did Brown and Byrum do to warrant the silent treatment?

Brown, who voted against the abortion regulations, told supporters of the bill: "I'm flattered you're all so interested in my vagina. But no means no," referencing the proposal.

Byrum was gaveled out of order after she protested when she wasn't allowed to speak on her amendment, which would have required proof of a medical emergency or that a man's life was in danger before a doctor could perform a vasectomy.

The House bill, passed on a 70-39 vote, mandates sweeping new regulations and insurance requirements for abortion providers; makes it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion, and regulates the disposal of fetal remains. It won't be taken up in the state Senate until at least September.

Ari Adler, spokesman for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said it was the prerogative of Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland, to keep order and decorum.

They "will not be recognized to speak on the House floor today after being gaveled down for their comments and actions yesterday that failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives," Adler said.

"House Republicans often go beyond simply allowing debate by welcoming open and passionate discussion," he added. "The only way we can continue doing so, however, is to ensure that the proper level of maturity and civility are maintained on the House floor."

State Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, said the speaking ban was appropriate.

"I was personally offended by Rep. Lisa Brown's disgraceful actions during Wednesday floor debate," she said. "I fully support Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas' decision to maintain professionalism and order on the House floor."

Brown and Byrum said they were dumbfounded.

"I don't have a history of being violent or out of line," Byrum said. "But I do speak my mind. I have given them no reason except that I disagreed with them and offered an amendment that they did not like."

Brown said the ban was unprofessional and outrageous.

"There have been many occasions of inappropriate behavior by men on the floor, and they haven't lost their voice," she said. "I was speaking to the bill at hand, I didn't use any curse words and I was using anatomically correct language."

Inside Michigan Politics editor and former legislator Bill Ballenger said he was surprised by the comments during the debate, including a suggestion from state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, that women withhold sex from their partners until such abortion-limiting bills stopped being considered.

(Tlaib, for the record, was not hushed.)

"Those comments were really over the top," he said. "But the idea of muzzling an elected official is not only counterintuitive but outrageous."

Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press

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