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Alyssa Milano's #SexStrike won't work, but we need to talk about abortion

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

Alyssa Milano's new call for a "sex strike" to protest anti-abortion laws may not have nearly as much success as her early push for the #MeToo movement did. But, I must admit, she has my attention.

Fired up by Georgia's new "fetal heartbeat" law, which is one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country, and a wave of similar bills proposed or passed in some other states, she tweeted a call Friday to a form of strategic abstinence.

"Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy," she wrote. "JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back. I'm calling for a #SexStrike."

No, that's not a totally original idea. Sex strikes have intrigued humanity since at least ancient Greece, when women in Aristophanes' comedy "Lysistrata" withheld sex to pressure men to end the Peloponnesian War. In 2003, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee earned a Nobel Peace Prize for protests that included a sex strike to help end her country's civil war. The sex strike "had little or no practical effect," she said later, "but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention."

Getting conversations started was Milano's aim, she said, as praise and criticism rolled in from both sides. Anti-abortionists sarcastically praised her call for abstinence, a favored form of birth control in their movement.

But some of her prominent pro-choice allies objected just as vigorously to her playing to stereotypes that tie women's power to their ability to allow or withhold sex, as if women don't enjoy sex too.

 

But let's give Milano credit for trying something. It's hard to cut through the daily deluge of news to talk about an issue that a lot of people think, incorrectly, already has been settled.

Instead, anti-abortion activists -- after decades of organizing at the local and state levels to elect sympathetic conservatives all the way up to the current White House -- are newly emboldened by President Donald Trump's conservative judicial appointments.

The latest push includes bills like Georgia's, which aim to ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, compared with the current Georgia law that allows abortions up to the 20th week of pregnancy. At six weeks, many women don't yet know they're pregnant.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed fetal heartbeat bills similar to Georgia's this spring. But in Iowa, a judge struck down a similar fetal heartbeat bill in January as unconstitutional, and before Trump took office the Supreme Court declined to weigh in after lower courts blocked similar bills in North Dakota and Arkansas. With the Supreme Court now tipped to the right after two Trump appointments, it's only a matter of time before the court takes up one of the challenges to these new state laws. Activists on both sides believe 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman's right to abortion, could be overturned.

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(c) 2019 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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