LANSING (AP) - State Rep. Lisa Brown said she never imagined that using the word "vagina" during a debate over anti-abortion legislation would lead to being barred from speaking in the Michigan House.
Then again, the Democratic state lawmaker from an affluent Detroit suburb said she also never thought it would lead to an international outpouring of support. But it has.
Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," flew in last week to help Brown and others perform her groundbreaking play about female sexuality on the Capitol steps in front of nearly 3,000 spectators. Jon Stewart parodied House GOP leaders' decision to ban Brown from speaking for a day, and Barbara Walters talked about the incident on "The View." CNN called for an interview. So did Fox News Radio, MSNBC and ABC News.
"Who thought one little floor speech could end in this?" said Brown, a slight-framed 45-year old former real estate agent who holds a law degree and is accustomed to making bold comments. But nothing in the three-year legislator's career has earned her a day of enforced silence or the attention she's getting now.
National groups from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America have made Brown a cause celebre on their websites. Democrats have jumped on Brown's treatment as one more example of what they call the Republican "war on women." The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has collected more than 48,000 online signatures calling on Michigan Speaker Jase Bolger and Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas - both Republicans - to apologize to Brown for denying her the right to speak.
The attention has dramatically raised Brown's profile in her fight to knock off a GOP incumbent in the Oakland County clerk's race and brought money from donors nationwide, although she doesn't know yet how much.
"Women are coming and hugging me and shaking my hand and thanking me," said Brown, who lives with her husband and three sons in West Bloomfield. "It's just been incredible."
Republican lawmakers have said Brown's speaking privileges weren't taken away for saying "vagina" on the House floor but for an out-of-line comment equating the anti-abortion bills being debated to rape. While speaking against a bill that would require doctors to ensure abortion-seekers haven't been coerced into ending their pregnancies, Brown told Republicans, "I'm flattered you're all so concerned about my vagina. But no means no."
That crossed the line, GOP Rep. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City recently told talk show host Michael Patrick Shiels.
"It wasn't about body parts. It wasn't about dissent. ... It was that last comment that took a step too far," Schmidt said. "It's like giving a kid a timeout for a day ... You know, `Hey, time out, you went a comment too far, you spoke your piece, we're going to let these other people have their dissenting comments, and then we'll get back to business.' Unfortunately, this has become a side show."
Brown said she wasn't tying the legislation to rape. She notes that Democratic Rep. Barb Byrum of Onondaga also got hit with a day of silence for saying "vasectomy" after not being allowed to speak on an amendment that would have placed restrictions on male sterilization.
"To hear the terminology they have used - `temper tantrum' and `like a child being put in a time out' - ... I highly doubt if they would say that if it were a man," Brown said. "What some people don't understand is the big issues around it - freedom of speech, and just the attitude that `we don't like what you're going to say, so we're not going to let you say anything.' That's not what democracy is about."
Although she hasn't had time to watch all her TV interviews or read all the stories, Brown said she intends to use her newfound fame to continue fighting those trying to restrict abortion access.
"They want to silence women on it," she said. "I absolutely think this is about a war on women."
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