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The Secular Movement’s Position on Women’s Rights

Previously posted on Skepchick:

I just got back from 10 days in California giving talks to UCLA, the OC Freethought Alliance, the Bay Area Skeptics, and finally American Atheists for their special Rapture RAM (Regional…Area?…Meeting). I’ll start with the news you may have already heard: some guy said some sexist stuff on stage.

Greta Christina and Jen McCreight have already covered it well, but the basics are this: David Eller mentioned that there are atheist video bloggers out there (showing a pic of ZOMGItsCriss and saying it helps if they’re funny or attractive. Yes, he did include “funny” (or some synonym) on the list of things we can be, but the focus was on the fact that Criss is pretty. Jen called him out on this during Q&A and he offered a half-hearted apology, which has now blossomed into an actual apology.

And let me pause here to mention how great it was to have so many feminists (men and women) in the audience. As soon as Eller said the thing about Criss, it was like a wave of WTF traveled through the room. This is progress! It used to be that when someone said something sexist on stage, everyone quietly let it go or even encouraged it. AA actually did a good job of stocking the stage and the audience with strong women who weren’t about to take that shit sitting down.

Eller also, a few minutes later, suggested we have Boobquake II because boobs are always great for getting attention for atheists. Blargh, yeah.

I was speaking immediately after, so I started by pointing out that my talk was originally supposed to be more general, about grassroots activism in the freethought community, but every time I go to these conferences it seems like the only time women are directly mentioned, it’s to focus on how awesome their tits are. So instead I spoke about why I think it’s important for atheists, nonbelievers, secularists, skeptics, etc to start paying attention to the war that the Religious Right is waging on women’s rights, in the US and elsewhere. The lack of acknowledgement of this problem from secular groups angers me far more than the random blatherings of one conference speaker.

Consider, for instance, what groups like American Atheists, CFI, JREF, and others focus on at conferences and on their websites. These groups do a lot of great work promoting separation of church and state, but this most often means the fight to keep creationism out of schools or stopping prayer at government meetings or removing “God” from our pledges and money. I feel that these are important causes (particularly the creep of creationism) but what’s missing?

Right now, the well-funded Religious Right lobby is working hard to convince our politicians to take away women’s rights based on nothing more than Biblical doctrine. Their agenda includes three major points:

Instituting abstinence-only education
Preventing all access to contraception
Making abortion illegal

Abstinence-only education has been shown (here and in every scientific study done) to result in more teen pregnancy, more sexually transmitted infections, more risk to the health and well-being of young people and the babies who inevitably result.

Contraception is what has finally allowed women the chance at equality. Without it, we would have no control over our reproductive health. We would not be able to delay having children until we’re ready. Withholding contraception leads to lack of education for women who have to drop out of school, social stigma for those who are sent away to give birth in secret, raised maternal mortality rates, an increase in unsafe abortions, and an increase in STIs.

Abortion is similarly necessary to give women control over their reproductive health. 80% of all US abortions happen in the first 10 weeks, when the embryo is less than an inch long. That embryo should not have the right to inhabit and leach off of the body of a full-grown woman for nine months. Abortions that are performed later in the pregnancy are most often done in order to protect the health of the mother or because there is something terribly wrong with the fetus.

Even if you still insist that the Religious Right is correct in saying that those embryos are special lives in need of saving, you should know that outlawing abortion will not stop abortions – it will only kill more women. If you want to stop abortion, the way to do it is to provide contraception and comprehensive sexual education from the moment kids start even thinking about sex.

Despite these facts, the Religious Right continues to believe these policies are for the best. Why? Because the Bible tells them that women are only good for making babies anyway, so screw them. Literally.

To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.’

Genesis 3:16

And the crazy thing is, they’re succeeding. In the first quarter of this year, 49 state legislatures introduced 916 bills that restricted reproductive rights. Here are a few that have passed, like in Texas, where women must have an invasive ultrasound that they either have to look at or have described to them in detail by a doctor before getting their abortion. Or South Dakota, where there’s now a 72-hour waiting period, and women must get counseling at an anti-choice pregnancy crisis center before obtaining an abortion. No centers applied to be on the official list, so that women would have no way to fulfill the requirements to have an abortion.

It’s happening all over the country and it’s spreading to other countries. The Religious Right’s attack on women’s rights is directly analogous to their attack on science in the classroom, so why aren’t non-believers standing up and fighting back? Why aren’t more of the big secular organizations decrying what’s happening?

Some organizations, like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Humanist Association have called out some of the problems, though both could take a page from the British Humanist Association, which regularly and boldly confronts anti-science when it infringes upon women’s reproductive health. BHA’s website even describes in detail its official stance on abortion (pro-choice, of course).

So let’s support those organizations and encourage others to join the fight against the anti-woman Religious Right. Until then, the bulk of the work will be done by feminists like Amanda Marcotte and feminist organizations like Equality Now, and we can’t just leave them to do all the heavy lifting. They’re only girls, after all.

2 comments to The Secular Movement’s Position on Women’s Rights

  • Absatively poselutely righteous Rebecca. I think too many atheist/skeptic groups are so timid politically.

  • Red McWilliams

    Of course, you’re spot on Rebecca and I think this highlights the shortcoming of the ‘we don’t get involved in political topics’ attitude that many science minded people adopt. The woo practitioners have no problem mixing their psudoscience with politics and if the scientifically literate aren’t willing to wade into that arena, public policy will continued to be shaped by magical thinking.

    One other issue I think this showcases is how fragmented the skeptic/non believer/whatever movement really is. Aside from agreeing that dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time as humans, many of us have very disparate ideas about how things do and should work. There are plenty of skeptics who agree with many of the anti-choice bills being proposed, so we have to decide how to proceed as a group in light of that. Do we ‘live with’ the people with those views because they agree that the Earth is more than 10,000 years old, or do we start fracturing and only rarely come together for a few causes?

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