I am an unashamed and vocal atheist and have been for a couple of years now. I believe that the atheist community is a natural ally to abortion rights activists, but it is an often overlooked community.
Over the past couple years, atheists, particularly in the US, have become more vocal and visible. There have been dozens of bus ads and billboard ad campaigns by local atheist groups. The task of these campaigns has been to simply let our presence be known. A recent Canadian study showed that the public, as a whole, trusts atheists and rapists about the same (shocking, right?). This study is part of the reason that there has been such a drive to improve our profile. The goal is twofold: 1) to encourage “closet” atheists to “come out,” and 2) to show the public that we are normal people, who just happen to believe in god less than they do. Most importantly, we are not trying to “convert” people.
Atheist groups are often engaged in dogged enforcement of separation of church and state. The biggest problem for abortion rights activists is that the church is continually interfering with the state, and many politicians are incapable of grasping the simple concept of their separation. That is what led to this photograph, which included three men in religious garb on a panel of five men debating whether forcing an insurer to pay for birth control violated religious rights.
If abortion rights activists were able to remove religion and the church from the political sphere, we would be much more successful in improving access to abortion and contraception. Planned Parenthood is under attack from the religious right. The religious right are the ones equating birth control use with promiscuity, and abortion with murder. In the atheist/secular community, there are more certainly anti-choicers, but when they pop up on discussion boards, they are mercilessly criticized. Atheists love one thing above all else – logic. At a minimum, the majority understand that legal and safe abortion is necessary to save women’s lives because without it, women will resort to unsafe abortion methods. Even if they would consider themselves “personally pro-life,” they understand at a minimum that making abortion illegal does nothing to stop it. They know that access to comprehensive sex-education and contraception is imperative to lower unwanted pregnancies. Atheists accept statistics and logic, and that is why the majority support all of the things that abortion rights activists support; abortion access, contraception access, comprehensive sex-education, etc.
By no means is the secular community without its misogynists. There have been a few major kerfuffles, the least of which involved many of the (mainly male) secular community backing up a guy who relentlessly hit on a lone girl in an elevator at a secular conference, despite her requests that he stop. And when she published a video about the incident on her blog, the community went ape shit. Fortunately, the prominent “leaders” of the community, for the most part, consider themselves feminists and they backed up the victim. PZ Meyers of Pharyngula, Hemant Metha of Friendly Atheist, and Jen McCreight of Blag Hag, to name a few, were vocal supporters of a woman’s right to say ‘no’ and to have that respected. Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the leaders of mainstream religious organizations, who are no friends of feminists, as we all know.
I truly am not trying to attack religion. I know that there are a great many religious individuals who support abortion rights, including members of this blog. I simply believe that the abortion rights community needs to work with, or at least learn from, secular groups. The secular community is very good at fighting religious interference with state business, and we need their expertise if we want any abortion rights at all. The state has unlimited resources to torment women, and the Republicans have not only spent 2011 pursuing their “war on women,” but they are poised to return women to the dark ages, with the assistance of the churches and religious leaders. We must utilize our natural allies. The secular community is just as motivated to keep the church out of schools and public office as we are to keep them out of our uteri.
The atheist and secular communities are the natural allies of abortion rights activists and it is time for us to cultivate this relationship. We desperately need the assistance of secular groups to keep government out of our vaginas.