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Michigan Woman Lawmakers Silenced By GOP After Abortion Debate 'Temper Tantrum'

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Michigan state Reps. Barb Byrum (D) and Lisa Brown (D).
Michigan state Reps. Barb Byrum (D) and Lisa Brown (D).

Two Democratic woman lawmakers in Michigan, Rep. Lisa Brown (West Bloomfield) and Rep. Barb Byrum (Onondaga), said Republican House leaders refused to allow them to speak on the House floor Thursday after their emotional remarks opposing an anti-abortion bill the day before.

Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland) gaveled Brown out of order on Wednesday afternoon after she told her colleagues, “I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no.”

Brown said she had no idea when she arrived at the House chamber Thursday morning that she would not be allowed to speak. She was about to deliver a speech in opposition to a bill that involves teacher retirement, as the minority vice chair of the Education Committee, but Minority Floor Leader Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) told her she had been banned from speaking for the day.

"I'd love to know what I said that was offensive," Brown told The Huffington Post. "It was an anti-choice bill regarding abortion, which obviously involves a vagina, so, you know, I don't know what word I'm supposed to use otherwise."

Byrum caused a stir when she marched through the House gallery Wednesday protesting that she hadn't been allowed to speak on her amendment to the anti-abortion bill that would have required a man to have proof of a medical emergency before he could have a vasectomy.

"It's my impression that I'm being banned from speaking as a result of my use of the term vasectomy -- a medical procedure," Byrum told The Huffington Post. "Neither of us has been contacted by Republican leadership as to why or how long we've been banned. Talk about disrespectful, that they don’t have the common decency to tell us themselves."

Ari Adler, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Jase Bolger (R-Marshall), said the lawmakers were banned from speaking because of their behavior, not because of their word choice. "They behaved in a way that disrupted the decorum of the House," Adler said. "For Brown, it was not the words she used, but the way she used them that resulted in her being gaveled down." In Byrum's case, Adler said, "I hate to put it this way, but she essentially had a temper tantrum on the House floor."

Adler said the Republican floor leader told the Democratic floor leader the two representatives would not be recognized on Thursday. It's "not [the GOP's] concern" if the lawmakers weren't given the message, he said. It's unfortunate, he added, that the two lawmakers were sanctioned for what occurred during debate on an anti-abortion bill, because it makes it look as if they were silenced for reasons other than their "lack of decorum."

"The reality is, we have two representatives not being recognized today because of their actions yesterday," Adler said. "It has nothing to do with their gender or religion or the topics they were speaking about."

Byrum said that she believes her gender did have something to do with it, and that the silencing is unfair and unwarranted.

"There have been physical altercations between at least two men on the House floor, and I don't recall any of them every being banned from speaking," Bynum said. "It's just unacceptable to silence women when we're talking about women's reproductive rights."

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