This Saturday, April 28, is the date for a collective movement of nationwide marches and rallies, organized by UniteWomen.org and backed by a national coalition of non-profit organizations, the Center for Inquiry among them. I wanted to write a bit about what motivated this and what's at stake.
In just the last few years in America, decades of gains in women's rights have been seriously endangered, with outrageous anti-choice laws proposed or passed by right-wing legislatures in numerous states. (See this excellent post by Michael De Dora summarizing many of them.) Sometimes these measures are phrased in terms of phony concern for women, but more often the mask slips and the real mindset behind them is revealed, like with the Georgia state representative who compared pregnant women to cows and pigs. When I wrote that the churches view women as livestock, I got some comments complaining that I was exaggerating for polemical effect, but as these remarks show, it wasn't really an exaggeration at all.
All these outrages stem from the anguish and fear of a movement that subconsciously senses its time is coming to an end. Women have been a slim majority of the electorate for the past few election cycles, and the most fervently anti-choice denominations continue to see their numbers decline relative to the rest of the population. Religious conservatives, consumed with fear at the prospect of a changing world, are responding with desperate measures trying to turn back the clock to a mythical past when they were in charge and everyone else knew their place. I doubt they'll succeed - I remain hopeful that the upsurge in anti-woman legislation will fade away as the elderly white male Christians, who are the traditional base for anti-choice politicians, comprise a smaller and smaller share of the electorate. But of course, that's no comfort to the women who are caught in anti-choice dragnets in the meantime.
As I've written in the past, atheists and feminists are natural allies: our goals converge. Feminists want women to have equal decision-making power and to exercise control over their own biology, and atheists want to limit the power of oppressive, fundamentalist religions that propagate themselves by enslaving women for use as child-bearing vessels. The evidence is clear that, given the choice, women consistently choose to have fewer children and to put more resources into raising and educating each one, leading to a virtuous cycle of healthier, more prosperous, less religious people. By contrast, fundamentalism flourishes best among poverty and ignorance, and by depriving women of choice and autonomy, it contributes to those very conditions.
So, what can you do? Make your voice heard! If there's a march near you, join it. If there isn't, call and e-mail your elected representatives. Blog about it, tweet about it, post about it on Facebook and whatever social sites you belong to. Let the churches and the politicians hear from you; send them the message that the Dark Ages are over, and we aren't going back. The world is a far better place when women have equal rights and all children are wanted. The religious crusaders ought to hear that when they try to deprive us of that, all they'll succeed in doing is awakening a sleeping giant.