A Sex Strike Is Just Not The Answer To The Alabama Abortion Law

May 16, 2019

The idea of a sex strike frames women’s bodies as a sexual commodity that can be denied as punishment.

The Republican-led Alabama Senate has passed a bill which bans abortions unless there is ‘serious health risk’ to the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Doctors who perform this procedure – that one in four American women have at some point in her life – face prison sentences of up to 99 years.

This is an outright and blatant attack on the reproductive rights of women,

While Alabama now has the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, this reality is not far off in many other American states. “Heartbeat bans”, which are abortion bans prohibiting the procedure after six weeks – when a heartbeat can be detected – were signed into law in Alabama prior to this new bill. Heartbeat bans and similar laws have also been signed in Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Texas, West Virginia, and Minnesota – that’s a lot of states which are slowly stripping away the reproductive rights of women.

The issue here is that a lot of women won’t even have any idea they’re pregnant until after six weeks. Pregnancy is often measured from a woman’s last period, not from fertilization. So if your period is late and you don’t realize for two weeks, you’ve missed your window for abortion in over thirteen states.

These laws are not pro-life. The same states that are outlawing abortion have some of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and very high rates of maternal mortality rates. As well as this, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health found that in the states that have restrictive abortion laws, women’s health is the worst. It’s clear that outlawing abortion doesn’t save babies; it just hurts women.

In response to these dangerous, archaic laws passing and rolling back the progress of women by decades, actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to express her anger and disappointment. She rallied for women to join her in a sex strike – agreeing to not have sex with men – until women got body autonomy back.

There are so many glaring issues with this reaction.

The first is that it reinforces the ridiculous idea that women primarily have sex with men for men. We’ve fought for so long for our sexual freedom and to move away from women’s perceived role as walking sex objects for men. The idea of a sex strike frames women’s bodies as a sexual commodity that can be denied as punishment. It also erases the fact that many women have sex for enjoyment, not just to please a man.

The second major issue with the #SexStrike is it completely excludes issues around consent and sexual violence. Not all women who seek abortions consented to the act which led to the pregnancy, and to position the discussion about abortion from the perspective of withholding sex to prove a point excludes the very real issue that many women get abortions due to rape, sexual assault, incest, and abuse.

The #SexStrike also ignores the Queer community, assuming all women are cisgender and having sex with men. And it neglects to acknowledge the sex industry and sex workers.

It’s just a really stupid idea.

To me, the #SexStrike is something which should have remained an anecdotal thought experiment angrily uttered in a group of friends discussing the ban over drinks. Where one friend points out that if the men making the laws stopped getting sex because their partners were scared of falling pregnant, they might think twice about passing them. To which another friend jokingly suggests all women withhold sex until the men start listening to women. The conversation moves forward.

And that’s where it should have ended.

For Milano to suggest a sex strike as a legitimate form of protest is not only an example of white, exclusionary feminism, but it’s simply unhelpful.

I like Milano. I think that, mostly, she does more good for women and feminism than bad. I think she’s well-intended and I can see how she came to the idea of a sex strike. But it’s problematic. It’s the kind of idea which is easy to dismiss as silly, hyperbolic, and crazy – and this is an issue which cannot be dismissed.

We need to be signing petitions and attending protests, calling members of government, organizing marches – any kind of proactive political action which can be quantified and not ignored. The cynic in me fears even these acts won’t have much of an impact, but they have more of a chance at changing something than agreeing to abstain from sex until the laws are changed.

At the end of the day, isn’t calling for a sex strike ultimately just another way of policing women’s bodies and dictating what we should do with them?

And right now, there is enough controlling of women’s bodies going on, thank you very much.

Featured image via tumblr.com.

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