Women's Rights Policy
This is an issue of primary concern for atheists. Throughout history no group has been more consistently oppressed and subjugated across cultures and political systems than women. The assumption that women are property, have little or no autonomy, and must be controlled by male authority is so embedded in all societies that it is seldom recognized. The primary reinforcement of this—perhaps even the source—has been religion.
The foundation for the assumed need for control over women has been their childbearing ability. Although somewhat understandable when women's lives were generally circumscribed by frequent childbearing, there is no longer any moral, ethical or social justification for denying them the full and equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities of citizenship.
AAI therefore opposes all laws and public policies that restrict opportunities for women to advance in education, employment, and politics.
To this end, AAI supports laws that require gender balance in all government funded fields of endeavor where possible without the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities being compromised.
In no area are women's rights restricted by law more than in matters involving childbearing. The religious right (led by the Catholic church and strongly supported by Protestant fundamentalists) has waged a relentless battle not only to outlaw abortion but to restrict access to contraceptives that would make abortion less necessary. Their tactics include local, state, and federal legislation and regulatory policies; campaigns to stack the judiciary with opponents of abortion; and to adopt a constitutional amendment that essentially designates a fertilized egg as a person to be protected and makes a pregnant woman a ward of the state. They support legislation and FDA regulations to ban or restrict access to varieties of contraceptives.
We strongly oppose these efforts because public policy should never be based on religious values and superstitious notions about "ensoulment." Contrary to what anti-abortion religionists claim, there is no such thing as a single-celled person. "Personhood" is not a biological concept; it is a social designation that cannot be realistically applied to anyone other than those who have been born without some truly bizarre consequences. The U.S. Constitution throughout applies rights and responsibilities only to those who are born and only they are defined as persons. Such has been the common practice of all societies.
A basic right in any society that values freedom has always been the right to control one's own body. This applies most strongly where pregnancy and childbirth are concerned. The process is inherently life threatening and fraught with physical, mental, social, and economic difficulties that can be massively life changing. It is hard to see how anyone but the woman herself can have the right to—or even be able to—judge if she should accept it.
There are laws that one's body cannot be used to help another (such as donating a kidney or bone marrow), not even to save another's life, without the donor's consent. Not even a dead body can be used as a donor without prior consent. Yet we have laws that require women to put their bodies in service to a fetus, sometimes at great harm to a woman's own wellbeing, giving them less autonomy than a corpse.
Roe v. Wade was a landmark Supreme Court decision for establishing the right to choose abortion based upon an implied constitutional right to privacy. However, its contention that the state’s interest increases with fetal development is untenable, as was an earlier ruling favoring the Hyde amendment (prohibiting federal funding for abortions) that government has "a compelling interest" in favoring childbirth. The state has no such interest. What is assumed in these decisions is that women in their childbearing capacity are something of a public utility that needs to be regulated. This is demeaning. Women have no need for either church or state to tell them what to do about a pregnancy that is disastrous for them. When religious busybodies step in, AAI must step up and stand with women in protecting their rights.
Included in this help must be support for readily available and affordable contraceptives and accurate medical advice. The same religious institutions that oppose abortion also oppose the use of contraceptives as well as reality based sex education. We therefore oppose government funded “abstinence only” sex education because it keeps sexually active students from getting information they need to make responsible decisions. We also oppose any accommodation, whether cultural or religious, of the practice of female genital mutilation, however minimal the procedure might be.
It is not a stretch to say that the fate of humanity may lie with how societies around the world treat women. We are facing a crisis of overpopulation as well as the routine extinction of many other lifeforms over millions of years of evolution. We humans have it in our power to control population growth, but only if women are free from religious and social coercion to have many children, as now happens in less developed countries. Few women who are free want large families—one or two children are enough. For reproductive restraint to be possible worldwide, women need the following:
- Opportunities for a good education
- Access to decent jobs.
- Comprehensive sex education.
- Readily available free or easily affordable birth control and abortion services.
- Readily available free or easily affordable quality child care services.
U.S. family planning policies currently imposed on less developed countries do none of this. On the contrary, they conform almost entirely to religious right beliefs about controlling women's reproductive decisions.