It’s time to organize outside the bedroom.
In early May, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a request for women to join her in a sex strike to protest the passage of a Georgia state law that criminalizes and bans abortions performed after six weeks of pregnancy. Her stated goal for the strike was to raise awareness about the fact that abortion and reproductive rights are being destroyed in conservative politicians’ attempts to overthrow Roe v. Wade. And while that is certainly true, Milano’s call for a strike leaves a lot to be desired.
When Milano unveiled her idea (if you could call such an unplanned tweet an unveiling), Twitter immediately erupted in debate about the pros and cons of a sex strike. Not unsurprisingly, proponents of the #SexStrike haven’t found much ground to stand on as opponents question them about the feasibility, effectiveness, and inclusiveness of their strategy. Their argument now basically boils down to “Sex is dangerous because we might not be able to get abortions, so we shouldn’t have sex until we can.”
Beyond the fact that this is ultimately a call for an abstinence-only approach to reproductive health—which we all know is neither practical nor effective—such a “strike” really only serves as a pat on the back to liberals who can now feel like they’re doing something by doing nothing.
In response to Milano’s hashtag, Lara Witt, founder of Wear Your Voice magazine, asks perhaps the most pertinent question about the strike: “How does it help people who need safe access to abortion to further limit our sexual autonomy?” Or in other words, how does a strike involving liberal straight women abstaining from sex with their presumably liberal straight male partners (who have no real power over how legislators vote) do anything to change the law? How does it help people of color, the working class, and the transgender and queer community, who already have limited access to reproductive health care?
What’s happening to abortion rights in the United States is scary, but it isn’t new. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 90 percent of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion provider. In Nebraska, that number jumps to 97 percent, with 41 percent of Nebraska women living in counties with no abortion clinic. And if you do live in one of the five counties where you can access an abortion, you are not only faced with the cost (private insurance doesn’t cover abortions in Nebraska), but also a 24-hour waiting period during which doctors are legally required to “counsel” you on your decision—and by counsel they mean discourage you from exercising your right to choose.
The alternative is to skip the clinic completely and go to one of Nebraska’s much more numerous crisis pregnancy centers, where staff members who are not medically trained will provide false and misleading information about abortion in order to convince you to consider adoption or parenting instead.
It’s past time for us to pull ourselves together and fight back, but let’s get one thing straight: an effective fight is not going to result from one wealthy actress calling for a strike without any input from organizers on the ground. (Because, seriously, how are you going to enforce a nationwide sex strike?) The time is now for militant, strategic, and collective action to ensure that abortions remain/become safe, free, and accessible.
So what can we do?
First of all, we need to learn to be more strategic. Our elders didn’t achieve the legalization of birth control, secure the right to an abortion, or improve health care access by holding up “I Support Planned Parenthood” signs and calling it a day. They didn’t call for ineffective strikes or take actions that had no clear direction or goal. Instead, they isolated a problem, strategized effective solutions, and organized to make it happen.
Take Pat McGinnis, for example: In the 1960s, before Roe v. Wade, she led a cohort of women who learned how to perform DIY abortions, taught classes, and orchestrated their own arrests in order to legally challenge laws that prohibited the dissemination of information about abortions. Her strategy was clear and effective: violate the laws, get her case to the Supreme Court, and get those laws overturned, all while taking direct action to educate her community about abortion and reproduction.
Activists like McGinnis achieved successes through careful planning and implementation of effective strategies that were aimed at solving specific problems. I greatly respect the fear- and rage- fueled attempts at raising awareness; the sign-holding on the side of the street, and the social media posts about how bad things are getting, but there comes a time to move past words and towards action. Some ideas might include occupying court rooms and state capitals, distributing accurate information outside crisis pregnancy centers, or even organizing a real, organized strike. Because even I will admit: sex strikes in places like Liberia and Colombia have been historically successful, with the difference being that these sex strikes took place in smaller communities, were organized by people on the ground (as opposed to called for by one bourgeois activist), and were part of larger strategies.
And that’s really the key as we continue taking action in Nebraska. Our solutions might not be the same as those in Georgia or Alabama or Missouri, but what’s important is that they are planned and implement- ed by the affected community to reach specific goals. No one knows the exact way out of this mess. But it’s time to do something more, to get people on our side and tear down the system that erodes our rights every day. When it comes to abortion, lives are at risk. We cannot and will not revert back to herbs and coat hangers.