Debate over abortion-related legislation took a combative turn in the Assembly today when a Pomona Democrat blasted male ignorance of women's bodies, then defied house floor leaders who asked her to stop.
Assemblywoman Norma Torres' outburst ended nearly an hour of fierce debate over Senate Bill 623 to continue a pilot project in which physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives provide first-trimester aspiration abortions.
The measure ultimately passed, 46-24, despite Republican opposition.
Torres began her floor speech by noting the words of Todd Akin - though not mentioning his name. The U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri sparked a national furor last week by saying that a "legitimate rape" doesn't usually cause pregnancy because women's bodies have a way to "shut that whole thing down."
Torres said that for a hundred years, perhaps 200 years, "women have been under attack - attack of the ignorant, attack of our male counterparts that cannot understand our bodies."
House Majority Floor Leader Charles Calderon, also a Democrat, rose on the Assembly floor to say that history can be discussed at another time but that Torres should "stick to the issues presented in the bill."
"The history of women's suffrage is very appropriate to this bill, and I take offense at any man who dares to stand up and shut me down," Torres responded. "As a woman, I refuse to be shut down."
Calderon countered that Assembly rules apply to all members.
"As a woman, I will not be shut down," Torres replied.
"Women continue to be oppressed by the ignorance that our bodies can simply get rid of something a male has inserted inside of us that we did not want, forcibly."
Torres then took a verbal slap at colleagues who seemed shocked by the exchange and by her angry comments.
"Don't 'Aw,"" she said. "Don't 'aw' at my comments. Really? You're shocked? I'm shocked that we're having this discussion on the floor. And as a woman, I'm offended by the discussion on the floor."
Republican Assemblyman Curt Hagman, a floor leader for the GOP caucus, grabbed his microphone to say that rules apply to all speakers and that SB 623 has nothing to do with whether women have a legal right to abortion.
"Please stick to the merits of the case," he said.
Torres defied him, too.
"I refuse as a women to be shut down by you or any other man in this Assembly," she said.
After urging a yes vote on SB 623, Torres then sat down.
SB 623 would provide a two-year extension for a program, launched in 2007, that has provided about 8,000 first-trimester aspiration abortions by trained nurse practitioners, physicians assistants and certified nurse midwives.
The program involves the University of California San Francisco, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in four regions - Shasta Pacific, Mar Monte, Los Angeles and Pacific Southwest.
Supporters of 623 painted it as much-needed legislation to ensure access to legal abortions. Opponents criticized the bill as a morally inept threat to the lives of unborn babies.
SB 623 now goes to the Senate for final action.
PHOTO CREDIT: In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, displays a copy of her proposed bill to restrict the release of medical or personal identifying information contained in emergency calls. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)