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Our Facebook feed this week has been overflowing with jokes and outrage about the Michigan State Congress where Rep. Lisa Brown was banned from speaking on the floor after saying “vagina” in a debate over an abortion bill. Brown’s sound response: “It’s an anatomically correct term for woman’s anatomy. It actually exists in Michigan statutes in three different places. This bill was about abortion. That doesn’t happen without a vagina.” Unsurprisingly, male lawmakers’ discomfort about speaking openly about the very bodies they are attempting to regulate is not new. In 1932, Margaret Sanger went to Washington to lobby against a provision in the Comstock Law that categorized birth control information as obscene and punished those who distributed it, including health care professionals (seriously). Below are two passages from her papers that illustrate some of the all-to-familiar attitudes she encountered there.

Sanger lobbying Congress, 1932

American Woman’s Association Award Speech, April 20, 1932:
“We found that the great difficulty was misunderstanding. We further found that the great majority of these men were both badly informed and misinformed. Of course, we found that the younger men, some of the newer ones, knew something of the pros and cons of birth control. One could easily know that by the size of their own families. But when it came to asking for a law to allow others to have the same privileges that they had, the subject became a serious one that had to have their due consideration.

Letter to Mary Hope Macaulay, May 21, 1932:
“But Mary dear their arguments grow weaker, they put up a very poor case this time never have we so thoroughly aroused the people as this year. Thousands wrote to Congressmen and oh Mary such letters!! Many of them classics. Just to arouse people to ask, to demand this right makes me feel the victory is near. And oh Mary you would love to see the look on the men’s faces… when I replied to pertinent questions & talked about “douches” — Their faces were scarlet! Poor darlings they wanted to escape but they had to sit & listen to what women endure. I read letter from Mothers & their old tired eyes were moist & I knew they understood & were moved.”

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