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Forget Sex Strikes—We Need a Real Strike for Abortion Rights

Tatiana Cozzarelli

Pro-choice activists pictured on the steps of the United States Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Abor­tion is becom­ing ille­gal again. The best way to fight against these restric­tive laws is mass mobi­liza­tions and strikes — not sex strikes, but strikes that grind the entire cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem to a halt.

In recent weeks, sev­er­al states have passed incred­i­bly restric­tive laws against abor­tion. The specifics of these laws vary, but the end result is the same: Abor­tion is becom­ing ille­gal again. In many cas­es, these laws threat­en any­one who gets or per­forms an abor­tion with prison time.

The Alaba­ma bill (HB 314) reclas­si­fies per­form­ing an abor­tion at any stage of the preg­nan­cy as a Class A felony, mean­ing that doc­tors will face a min­i­mum of 10 years and up to 99 years in prison. The law states that peo­ple who seek or attain abor­tions will not face crim­i­nal or civ­il lia­bil­i­ty. There are excep­tions for seri­ous health risk to the unborn child’s moth­er,” ectopic preg­nan­cies, and preg­nan­cies in which the fetus has a lethal anom­aly.” How­ev­er, there are no excep­tions for sit­u­a­tions involv­ing rape, incest, or preg­nan­cy of a minor.

The Geor­gia bill (HB481) is sim­i­lar but does include excep­tions for rape and incest. In con­trast to the Alaba­ma bill, the Geor­gia bill lacks a pro­vi­sion exempt­ing the per­son seek­ing the abor­tion from pros­e­cu­tion. Cur­rent­ly, being found guilty of break­ing abor­tion law in Geor­gia results in between 1 and 10 years of prison time. How­ev­er, the lan­guage of the bill leaves room for pros­e­cu­tors and judges to rede­fine abor­tion as homi­cide, mean­ing that preg­nant peo­ple and their doc­tors could both be charged under crim­i­nal codes per­tain­ing to mur­der and manslaughter.

The Mis­souri state sen­ate also passed a bill (HB126) ear­ly Thurs­day morn­ing that bans abor­tions after eight weeks, with­out any excep­tions for cas­es of rape and incest. The bill does include pro­vi­sions for when the per­son seek­ing an abor­tion is a minor, but these pro­vi­sions pri­mar­i­ly take the form of mak­ing obtain­ing an abor­tion more dif­fi­cult, not less.

The Alaba­ma and Geor­gia bills also include dis­turb­ing pro­vi­sions regard­ing the men­tal health of the preg­nant per­son, pre­sent­ing sev­er­al dif­fer­ent prob­lems regard­ing the risks they pose to peo­ple and the legal prece­dents they may set. For one, they dis­miss men­tal ill­ness­es and oth­er emo­tion­al con­di­tions as cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly less seri­ous than phys­i­cal con­di­tions. Anoth­er issue with these pro­vi­sions is that they make access to abor­tion con­tin­gent upon for­mal diag­no­sis, which can be dif­fi­cult to obtain, and makes access also depen­dent on vague notions of what counts as seri­ous” men­tal illness.

Noth­ing to do with being pro-life”

Laws that ban abor­tions do not stop abor­tions; they just sen­tence women and trans peo­ple to death by unsafe and ille­gal abortions.

This law has noth­ing to do with being pro-life.” What about the lives of the women who will be forced to car­ry preg­nan­cies to term or have unsafe and ille­gal abor­tions? What about the 16 mil­lion chil­dren in the U.S. who go hun­gry every year? What about the chil­dren sep­a­rat­ed from their par­ents in deten­tion cen­ters? Pro-life” is not about defend­ing life. It is about state con­trol of bodies.

These bills are part of a larg­er pat­tern of assault on repro­duc­tive rights nation­al­ly, and it would be a mis­take to view them as just a south­ern phe­nom­e­non, or as an issue that only affects a few states. These laws, like the heart­beat bills” that passed ear­li­er this year in Ohio and Mis­sis­sip­pi, will be chal­lenged and go to the Supreme Court. And that means we are look­ing at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mass restric­tions on abor­tion rights nation­al­ly and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of an entire or par­tial over­turn of Roe v. Wade. In such a sce­nario, 9 unelect­ed judges would have the pow­er to make deci­sions about the bod­ies of the approx­i­mate­ly 168 mil­lion women and trans* peo­ple around the country.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the lib­er­al response to these assaults on repro­duc­tive rights so far has been less than inspir­ing. Planned Par­ent­hood is buy­ing ads that encour­age women to con­tact their leg­is­la­tors. The typ­i­cal elec­toral line of just vote for the Democ­rats in Novem­ber” is being trot­ted out again — but it is even more obvi­ous­ly use­less than usu­al as peo­ple are feel­ing the con­se­quences of these repres­sive laws right now! Indeed, it is very dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that, if more pro­gres­sive” politi­cians are elect­ed in 2020, those who are impris­oned under this law will be par­doned. And for those who are forced to give, birth there will nev­er be any jus­tice for what the state forced them to go through. We don’t need abstract, far-off polit­i­cal solu­tions; we need a con­crete and imme­di­ate solution.

Besides, vot­ing for the Democ­rats is no guar­an­tee that they will sup­port repro­duc­tive rights. After all, Nan­cy Pelosi called abor­tion a fad­ing issue” in an inter­view in May of 2017 and argued that Democ­rats could be flex­i­ble on repro­duc­tive rights. Even Bernie Sanders cam­paigned for a pro-life Demo­c­rat. The DCCC is fundrais­ing for a pro-life Demo­c­rat as we speak. So, it’s hard to imag­ine that this par­ty will serve as a shield from the avalanche of attacks.

Anoth­er bizarre and patent­ly use­less solu­tion” that was pro­posed by Alyssa Milano is for all women to go on a sex strike” and refuse to sleep with their (pre­sum­ably cis male) part­ners until these laws are over­turned. This solu­tion deeply mis­un­der­stands both strikes and sex: Sex with one’s part­ner shouldn’t be a job to go on strike from, but an expres­sion of desire. This call for absti­nence com­plete­ly eras­es women’s desire and goes back to the puri­tan­i­cal and misog­y­nis­tic notion that sex is only for men’s plea­sure. To add to that, abor­tion bans don’t just affect women: Not all women have sex with cis men, and most cis men have absolute­ly no con­trol or say over laws about abor­tion. A sex strike will only leave us sex­u­al­ly frus­trat­ed, repressed, and with less repro­duc­tive rights, as this doesn’t attack any of the insti­tu­tions of pow­er that are attack­ing our repro­duc­tive rights.

Some have argued that the solu­tion is to donate to local non-prof­its or form a net­work of peo­ple will­ing to host peo­ple who seek abor­tions in states where it is still legal. While we should encour­age these efforts to sup­port those seek­ing abor­tions, this is a vast­ly insuf­fi­cient response. They are strate­gies of defeat, accept­ing as a giv­en that these laws will stand and that we must work around them. Instead, we need to orga­nize to defeat anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion. This approach also doesn’t take into account that these laws will go to the Supreme Court, and we will need a nation­al response. The Supreme Court deci­sion may threat­en repro­duc­tive rights every­where. We need to begin to build this nation­al response now.

If we hope to effec­tive­ly stop what amounts to a full frontal assault on repro­duc­tive rights, we have to take urgent action now.

Maybe half of Alyssa Milano’s slo­gan is right. We do need a strike but not one that with­holds sex. What we need is a strike that with­holds our labor, one that could hit the cap­i­tal­ists and the politi­cians where it hurts: in their wallets.

If our lives don’t mat­ter, try pro­duc­ing with­out us

Ear­ly in 2019, dur­ing the height of the gov­ern­ment shut­down, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can par­ties were locked in a blame-game in order to win” the gov­ern­ment shut­down. Mean­while, fed­er­al work­ers were going hun­gry, being evict­ed from their homes, and bear­ing all of the finan­cial hard­ships. The bour­geois politi­cians con­tin­ued to go on tele­vi­sion and talk about how deeply they under­stood the pain of the work­ing class but con­tin­ued to do noth­ing. It wasn’t until the work­ing class threat­ened to strike—shut­ting down sev­er­al air­ports — that the shut­down was actu­al­ly ended.

In the cas­es of both the gov­ern­ment shut­down and the cur­rent assault on repro­duc­tive free­dom, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty put up entire­ly sym­bol­ic resis­tance in hopes of gar­ner­ing votes. The fact that bour­geois politi­cians aren’t propos­ing any rad­i­cal solu­tions shouldn’t be a sur­prise. The rul­ing class is scared of our col­lec­tive pow­er because, when the work­ing class orga­nizes togeth­er, we can win. When we orga­nize, we can stop these regres­sive laws and pro­tect those of us who need abor­tion access. We have the pow­er to stop the attacks on repro­duc­tive rights, like we had the pow­er to stop the shutdown.

There have been sev­er­al exam­ples of pow­er­ful women’s mobi­liza­tions for women’s rights around the coun­try in recent years. More­over, there have been the Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day strikes around the world, most notably the mas­sive strikes in Spain that shut down entire indus­tries, involv­ing 5.3 mil­lion peo­ple and were called for by ten labor unions, as well as by stu­dent assem­blies and women’s assem­blies. If our lives don’t mat­ter, try pro­duc­ing with­out us,” the Span­ish women’s move­ment proclaimed.

In 2016, Pol­ish women walked off the job against a restric­tive abor­tion law, and 6 mil­lion peo­ple took the streets in protest. These mas­sive mobi­liza­tions were able to stop Poland from pass­ing one of the most restric­tive abor­tion laws in the world.

From defense to offense: free abor­tion, free healthcare

Just as the threat of a strike end­ed the gov­ern­ment shut­down, a strike could defend our repro­duc­tive rights. Pro­fes­sions dom­i­nat­ed by women have been increas­ing­ly mobi­lized in the U.S., with the wave of teacher strikes at the fore­front, but also strikes and threats of strikes by nurs­es. These sec­tors that are already in motion, and that will expe­ri­ence the con­se­quences of our rights being tak­en away, can and should push for strikes, call­ing on all sec­tors of the work­ing class to join. This defen­sive strug­gle against repres­sive laws, in the hands of the work­ing class, could and should be the spring­board for a broad­er move­ment for Medicare for All that includes free abor­tion on demand.

There are more social­ists and peo­ple open to social­ist ideas than ever in the past 30 years in this coun­try. Some even hold lead­er­ship posi­tions in labor unions, as sev­er­al DSA mem­bers do. These posi­tions should be at the ser­vice of mobi­liz­ing the work­ing class against this repres­sive leg­is­la­tion and for the right to free abor­tions on demand. As social­ists, we have to fight against this leg­is­la­tion, orga­niz­ing our co-work­ers and, if we are union­ized, our unions.

These attacks on vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of the work­ing class will con­tin­ue. Abor­tion rights will con­tin­ue to be under attack, and women and trans* peo­ple will con­tin­ue to be the tar­get of right-wing aggres­sion. The only way to resist this is to build a strong and uni­fied class sol­i­dar­i­ty among the work­ing class — not just for wage demands but also for repro­duc­tive rights and the rights of all oppressed peo­ple. Orga­niz­ing for a strike means orga­niz­ing to build a stronger work­ing class, one that will not only over­throw these oppres­sive abor­tion laws but this entire oppres­sive sys­tem one day.

This arti­cle was first post­ed by Left Voice.

Tatiana Coz­zarel­li is a for­mer mid­dle school teacher and cur­rent Urban Edu­ca­tion PhD stu­dent at CUNY.
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