The feminist blogosphere has been buzzing over the recent brouhaha in the Michigan State House of Representatives. On June 7, a bill that would drastically limit abortion access was introduced onto the House floor for a vote. To be honest, “drastically limit” is a huge understatement: this 60-page bill would criminalize all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for rape or health of the mother or baby (except for when the mother’s life is at risk), require abortion providers to have surgery rooms regardless of whether or not they provide surgical abortions, require doctors to be present for medication abortions, screen women to see if they were “coerced” into getting an abortion, and ban the use of technology to prescribe medication for abortion services and the morning-after pill. Because of all these regulations, clinics would need to charge higher fees or close down entirely. Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated House passed it 70-39. The Senate will begin discussing it in September.
While the House may have passed it, this anti-choice legislation did not go without opposition. Representative Lisa Brown (D-MI) said:
“Yesterday we heard the Representative from Holland speak about freedom of religion. I’m Jewish. 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 to save the life of the mother, are not only permissible but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as humyn life does not equal that of the mother. I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?
“And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”
First of all, I think it’s really amazing that there’s an affiliated/observant Jew in the Michigan State Congress. The fact that she doesn’t allow her religious convictions to remain a secret is even cooler, since Jews often try to stay low-profile. (Considering there are still quotas and a lot of anti-Semitism, I don’t even blame them.) So to see a Jew bragging about it is totally awesome.
Secondly, I am SO glad that someone has finally talked about what Judaism has to say about abortion! Brown’s point about how Judaism requires an abortion to save the life of the mother is something that occurred to me ever since I started caring about reproductive rights. Everything Brown said is completely correct: if a fetus threatens the life of the mother, it’s a mitzvah to have an abortion. Yes, folks, commanded to us by the Holy One. As a result, any legislation that restricts abortion access is sort of a freedom of religion issue. But I’ll let the ACLU deal with that one when it becomes an issue.
And finally, it is extremely awesome that Brown had the guts to use the word vagina on the House floor. It’s so silly that someone has to be praised for using the technical term for a part of the humyn anatomy, and I hope the situation is different for my daughter’s generation. As of right now, though, I am so impressed with Brown for getting up there and using the word vagina, since it’s so taboo in today’s society.
Unfortunately, the Michigan State Congress couldn’t deal with a woman talking about Judaism and reproductive rights while using the word vagina, and banned her from speaking the next day. Again, I look forward to the day where this situation would never happen.
Well, I’m glad that we have women and Jews like Brown in politics, and I certainly hope she’ll pursue a seat in the US Congress at some point soon. Until then, I can’t wait to see what else she accomplished in Michigan!
For her amazing courage, I dub Lisa Brown an inductee into the Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make us feminists proud.
This weekend, I will be at the NOW conference. Look forward to hearing about all the awesome people I meet, speakers I hear, and sessions I attend!