The Michigan Dust-Up Over the Word Vagina Underlines the Ugliness of the Anti-Choice Mega-Bill

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 18 2012 11:14 AM

Michigan Legislators Demand Control of the Organ Which Must Not Be Named

Anti-abortion protesters.
A protestor holds up an anti-abortion sign in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.

I personally want to thank the Republicans in the state House of Michigan for banning two female Democrats last week for their temerity to testify against the mega-bill trying to run abortion providers out of the state. With state Rep. Lisa Brown, it appears that the concern was she used language that Rep. Mike Callton called inappropriate for “mixed company,” aka the word vagina, which is apparently so filthy a term it must not touch the ears, much less the lips of ladies. I usually have to build a careful case that opposition to abortion is based not in any concern for fetal life, but instead in a prudish and sexist hatred of female sexuality and fear of female empowerment. This week, Michigan Republicans did that work for me. So I want to offer my thanks.

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Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

Having gotten that out of the way, I want to address the content of the bill itself, which has more condescending sexism and outright sadistic misogyny in it than the comment thread on a blog post about women in video games. A quick summary of the ugliness within:

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1) Michigan legislators have their eye on punishing women who try to get their abortions as quickly as possible after discovering their pregnancy, well before there’s any fetus to speak of. The bill forces women who want to take RU-486, which must be used in the first 63 days of pregnancy, to do so in the presence of a doctor. For the women who live in the 82 percent of Michigan counties without an abortion provider, this adds expense and time that usually result in women waiting until further along in their pregnancy to abort.

2) After all is said and done, even the existing abortion providers might not be there, since this bill is stuffed full of unnecessary regulations intended to shut down clinics, such as requiring clinics that only do medication abortion to have a full surgical suite that they will never actually use. If that expense doesn’t do them in, the requirement that they carry excessive levels of malpractice insurance will. These regulations have nothing to do with actual concerns about women’s safety. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures around, especially in comparison with childbirth, which is 10 times more dangerous.

3) Doctors will now be required to screen for domestic violence and coercion before performing the abortion. In theory, this is the least offensive part of the bill, because counseling women to make sure that abortion is their own choice is already a standard part of abortion care. The problem is that the bill’s definition of “coercion” is troublingly vague and of course, utterly one-sided. The people who stand outside of abortion clinics to scare and harass women seeking abortion are coercive and abusive, but the bill doesn’t address this at all.

4) In addition, the House is expected to pass a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks, except to save a woman’s life, on the false premise that fetuses at that stage of gestation can feel pain. Bans on these kinds of abortions have a particularly sadistic bent, since women who seek abortions at that stage usually have the saddest stories of all. These abortions are most commonly in response to fetal defects that are harder to detect earlier in a pregnancy. Women and especially young girls who are suffering from sexual trauma and extreme poverty are overrepresented in this category. Overall, only 1.5 percent of abortions happen this late in pregnancy. 

As extreme as this bill is, anti-choice legislators in Michigan have even grander goals, hoping to eliminate abortion and seriously cripple contraception access. State Rep. Mike Shirkey made this clear, announcing on the radio, “Until we completely eliminate abortions in Michigan and completely defund Planned Parenthood, we have work to do.”