Should women go on a sex strike over Republican abortion laws? Feminists are divided

The architect herself.
The architect herself.
Image: AP Photo/John Bazemore
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Many women do not know they are pregnant for at least five or six weeks into their pregnancy. In six US states, women for whom this is the case will now be unable to seek a termination, after Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, and North Dakota this year adopted strict anti-abortion laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures. The “heartbeat bill,” as it is known, prohibits abortion under all circumstances, including rape or incest, after six weeks, or when cardiac activity is (arguably) first detected.

Actor and activist Alyssa Milano has a solution—though it’s nothing if not controversial.

In a series of follow-up tweets, Milano categorized the #SexStrike as an opportunity for women to assert their bodily autonomy: “Protect your vaginas, ladies. Men in positions of power are trying to legislate them.” As an exemplar, she shared a Quartz article on the 17th-century tactics of the Iroquois women, who abstained from sex to prevent unregulated warfare among their peoples.

Initially, the response seemed positive: the tweet has been liked almost 40,000 times, with a further 13,500 retweets. Public figures including Bette Midler and Maureen Shaw wrote notes of solidarity, encouraging women to assert their bodily autonomy in order to speak out against the laws.

But a backlash followed almost instantaneously, from supporters of and objectors to the legislation alike. Prominent feminist writers including Andi Zeisler and Jessica Valenti questioned some of the underlying assumptions about Milano’s proposed sex strike and what it might suggest about female sexuality.

In fact, Valenti said, “a big part of the reason GOP men want to ban abortion is because they hate the idea of women having non-married, non-procreative sex!” If anything, she added, women should be doing more of it. As an alternative, she directed those who wanted to support abortion rights to donate to feminist organizations such as the Magnolia Fund or Access Reproductive Care.

But Milano is undeterred—though she’s yet to decide how long is appropriate to strike. “I mean I don’t know,” she told the Associated Press. “I sent a tweet last night. I haven’t really thought much past that this morning.”