The woman who said “vagina” stood with the woman who would not sit down.
Michigan lawmaker Lisa Brown was silenced last year after using the word “vagina” on the House floor in a speech about abortion rights.
“I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no,’” she said on June 14, 2012.
For using that “offensive” term, the House leadership banned her from subsequent debate that day.
So, no surprise, Brown — now the Oakland County, Mich. clerk — was glued to the livestream Tuesday night as Texas Sen. Wendy Davis entered her tenth, then eleventh, then twelfth hour filibustering a law that would have criminalized abortions past 20 weeks and effectively shut down most abortion clinics in the state.
“I was tweeting, I was cheering her on,” Brown said yesterday in an interview. “I stood with Wendy.”
No surprise also that both women are Democrats taking on Republican majority chambers.
What may have been a surprise is that Brown, who is Jewish, and Davis, who is not, have a Jewish connection through the National Council of Jewish Women. Brown is a member; Davis got the Texas chapter’s Women who Dared award in February.
Brown, in fact, cast her floor speech a year ago as a matter of Jewish conscience.
“I’m Jewish,” she said then. “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. Judaism believes that therapeutic abortions — namely abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother — are not only permissible, but necessary. The stage of the pregnancy does not matter.”
Brown wrapped up: “I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adhere to yours?”
And then, the segue into the line that got her banned for using an anatomical term that her opponents said did not belong in “mixed company.”
Brown’s Austin, Tex. NCJW sisters turned out to support Davis during the filibuster — about 15-20 out of the hundreds who cheered her on, according to Susan Pintchovski, who helped organize the turnout. And for precisely the reasons Brown had cited in her speech on the Michigan House floor a year earlier: Religious conscience.
“It’s really an intrusion on our religious liberty,” Pintchovski told me. “It’s not just a right to choose, it’s the right to follow our faith-based beliefs.”
Brown told me, though, that the Jewish component was not on her mind as she stuck it out in her suburban Detroit home, watching the Davis filibuster and its aftermath until about 1:30 am.
Instead, it was her memories of being silenced and watching the Texas Senate leaders try to do the same to Davis, that kept her riveted.
“I was thinking about the mistreatment and disrespect of female legislators, of women, of not allowing women to speak,” she said.
In Austin this week, the chamber’s (male) leaders, adhering to a three-strikes-you’re-out policy — one that Democrats said was a mishmash of the Senate’s actual rules — ended the filibuster because they said Davis had steered off topic by mentioning a separate bill requiring sonograms for women seeking abortions, by mentioning funding for Planned Parenthood and because a colleague assisted her in putting on a back brace.
A Texas Senate filibuster requires standing, without leaning for support on anything, for the duration. Davis managed 13 hours. “Stand with Wendy” was one of the slogans of the evening; the other was, “Let her speak.” (Did Pintchovksi join in the chanting? “You bet I did,” she said.)
Davis’ Democratic colleagues drew out the debate over procedural questions and managed to prevent a vote until just past midnight, the deadline. After hours of deliberation, the vote was declared null; Davis was victorious, however fleetingly. Gov. Rick Perry has called for another session.
Brown, who thought the national coverage her own floor speech drew would be a wake-up call, is a little more wizened now.
“It’s fascinating to me, the way people talk about women’s bodies, without having a clue,” she said.
UPDATE: Davis today earned a degree of support from another Jewish lawmaker, albeit a male member of the state’s Republican leadership.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus rebuked Perry for invoking’ Davis hardscrabble past, as the daughter of a single mother and as a single mother herself. “t’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters,” Perry said.
That went to far, Straus told the the Texas Tribune:
“Disagreements over policy are important and they’re healthy, but when he crosses the line into the personal, then he damages himself and he damages the Republican Party,” Straus said.