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.’
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.
Nice post Rebecca!
Sometimes I have the sense that since “it’s politics” it is not the purview of skeptics. Well, that’s not really a sense, but rather, something I hear said out loud fairly often.
Atheists (as opposed to skeptics, which is a shaky dichotomy, I know) seem to be (at least the organized ones) more politically active and more progressive. At least in Minnesota. If there is a progressive movement public activity (parade, demonstration, etc.) MN Atheists are there in force. And that, I’m sure, is in part due to the leadership here.
We had this discussion a few weeks ago at gathering, and it was suggested (by either me or Mike Huabrich, and seconded by the other one) that MN Atheists change their constitution to have gender balance in board membership. The DFL (what we Democrats in Mn call ourselves) do this: Ultimately, the party delegates that go to the national party from this state are 50-50 female-male because we make it that way on purpose.
A sketpical look at that (from certain skeptics) would say that it is irrational that there be an enforced 50-50 gender representation. Let the chips fall where they may, let the most qualified delegates be the delegates, bla bla bla. That is not, however, a skeptical argument. It is either a poorly formed defensive ploy born of ignorance, or just plain thinly veiled sexism, or both.
I’m ranting. I should go back to my blog and writ this up. Anyway, thanks for this post, well said.
I’ll add a link to my http://tinyurl.com/3o8lps9 .
Thanks, Greg. Yeah, the talk I gave opens with an email I got from an SGU listener accusing me of “politicizing skepticism.” My response: fuck that. Things already are political, and some of the most important skeptical topics require political activism.
I think it’s more accurate to say that misogynists politicize misogyny.
I know it often seems like critical thinking in politics is off-limits, but I don’t recall there being some sort of royal decree on the subject.
amen to that rebecca.
public policy is of course going to vary from person to person based on personal values, which is fine. but that doesn’t mean that public policy shouldn’t be informed by evidence.
skepticism absolutely has a role to play in evaluating data and purported evidence for a claim, whether its in the lab or society.
finally, it really annoys me when people act like you should only *do* skepticism or only do science or only do art. F-that. If you have an interest in talking about something, go for it. If people can’t separate what they agree with from what they dont and insist on tuning you out, F-them.
I think sometimes the sceptical movement sticks too closely to it traditional subjects. Policy formation can be a distressingly evidence-free activity, and the same cognitive biases that lead to homoeopathy or bigfoot sightings can do tremendous damage in a policy environment.
Now politics is a dangerous topic, nothing destroys reasonable disagreement more effectively except religion. I say this knowing my political views differ from most of you on many subjects (though not the ones raised in Rebecca’s post). There will always be a subjective element to policy, but sceptics can and should address factual questions when they are raised.
Yeah, I think hitting the religious aspect of it helps. Religion and creationism in schools is a political issue, but most skeptics are happy to be involved in that issue because of the anti-science nature of the other side. This issue is the same thing, and skeptics should care and get involved. Focusing on the religious part ought to make more skeptics pay attention.
“Things already are political, and some of the most important skeptical topics require political activism.”
I am really glad to hear/see you say that. I’ve felt for a long time now that the “skeptic movement” has been far too shy of important activist political activities and positions.
I was recently grappling with an acquaintance of mine and remembered that, luckily, George Carlin said it better than I ever could.
So that’s where I stole the line about life doesn’t begin at conception; it began a billion years ago. Thank you, George. You’re the best.
Hahaha! I used to say that all the time, unaware that George Carlin said it first. I’m just gonna have to start linking this left and right now!
Oh, to clarify, I was referring specifically the life doesn’t begin at conception it began billions of years ago thing.
It was a great talk; thanks for sharing it. (And btw, if Greta’s talk got the most applause breaks during, yours definitely got the most confirmations-instead-of-questions during the Q&A.)
And you’re absolutely right, Republicans and conservatives are waging an all out war against women and the poor in this country and all rational people should be able to see it by now. This war is unbelievably well funded, disciplined, long-planned, and centrally coordinated. It cannot be easily fought ad-hoc, or solely with internet outrage. Many skeptics avoid politics I think because they’d rather focus on areas where we all agree, but I think there are certain political positions where regardless of governmental philosophy we can all agree that our positions dovetail.
The issue of attractiveness = value for women is one I’ve also been thinking of recently. When I interviewed Kari Byron I thought it was really interesting how some skeptical bloggers who I’d assumed were fairly enlightened still couldn’t resist making piggish comments. Then there was Glenn Beck’s attack on Meghan McCain a week or so ago which basically boiled down to “I don’t like her and I disagree with her so I’m going to call her fat and ugly.” It’s gross.
I think you make very good points about women’s reproductive rights and the current laws that some people are trying to pass to restrict their rights. That type of stuff angers me…almost as much as rape, arranged marriages, and domestic violence angers me. Those things are often still ignored…and the women who are involved in them are made to feel guilty as if they did something wrong. I do, however, think there needs to be some type of differentiation between that type of sexism and the type of sexism you opened the article talking about. I know the types of comments like the one Eller made can be unnecessary and tasteless at times, but they can also be funny. I’m not defending Eller, but plenty of comics make hilarious sexual jokes, and I’m sure at least some of the people who get worked up about sexists comments watch or listen to people who could be considered sexist. A know people who makes comments about girls, and boobs, and sex…who are very good people who take stands against violence towards women and support women’s rights. I make sexual and boob jokes myself, and I don’t consider myself a sexist. I also don’t call myself a feminist. I have volunteered for crisis hotlines and sexual assault centers, written letters to officials about birth control and abortion, and stuck up for women I have seen mistreated, but I don’t call myself a feminist. I don’t because I don’t want the association of someone who gets offended at every remark tied to who I am…because that’s not who I am. I know I would be much more comfortable calling myself a feminist activist if it was more focused on the type of women’s rights you outline in most of this article.
Do you call yourself and atheist then? For a long time I didn’t call myself an atheist because I didn’t want to be associated with certain groups. And then I grew up and realized that it’s silly to allow someone else to define my label.
All labels get negative connotations from the people who oppose them. Sometimes we need to wrench back control of our own label. There was a great article on Skepchick about this just recently. I’ll proudly wear my label of feminist.
How did you know I was an atheist? :p Yes, I do call myself that. It’s only been a few years that I’ve actually stated that to other people though…I used to just say that I wasn’t religious.
Hey, Jaz, I’m pretty sure if you think a person’s rights, political, social, economic, educational, legal, whatever, should not depend on the arrangement and type of their chromosomes, then you are a feminist, like it or not.
I call myself a feminist because I’m not a doormat.
I actually got a polling call from a local Democratic candidate, and it lasted for at least 15 minutes, asking me my opinion on many issues. Abortion was not mentioned a single time. The only time I could express my opinion about abortion rights was when they asked me the open-ended question of what issues are important to me. The Republicans are doing everything in their power to restrict abortion, and the Democrats in my area (and likely elsewhere) don’t even care enough to mention it. I feel like, as a liberal, I can support abortion rights but I’m not supposed to advertise it or make a big deal about it. I’m supposed to lament abortion but allow it anyway, and never admit in polite company that it’s something I actually care about. Maybe it’s time for me to get off my ass and finally volunteer as a patient escort at the local clinic.
Volunteering as a patient escort is a great idea. If you do it, I hope you write up your experience so we can post it and encourage others to do the same!
This is the important stuff! This is where Skepticism & Feminism should be focusing.
While we should discourage sexist remarks, I feel the attack on women’s rights is much more important than one person’s thoughtless remarks especially when within the skeptic community I feel we are overall quite good about not being sexist because fundamentally we believe in equal rights for all.
Great post! I agree 100%, this is what’s missing. It is a perfect atheist/skeptic issue to be sure, especially since even democratic candidates tend to argue abortion on religious people’s terms (while many argue from “women’s rights” positions, few point out that biologically a fetus at early stages of development is incapable of experiences pain/fear/self-awareness etc.), and it seems like an obvious case of public misinformation. Going public with these issues would be a much more effective and substantial way of getting attention for atheists than “Boobquake II” IMO.
it should also be pointed out that despite the Family Values rhetoric, conservatives have tried to cut funding for child services.
so while pretending to be so very concerned for the life of the unborn fetus, once the child is born, it no longer serves their misogynistic purposes
I do think the incident with Eller’s remarks is an important one to talk about, as well. What struck me about this incident was how quickly Eller apologized, rather than digging in his heels, and how few comments I’ve seen on the blog posts I’ve read about it that accuse Jen and any other woman who had a problem with it of being unreasonable for mentioning it. Right before that I was feeling really discouraged about the skeptical community and feminism in general, because it seemed like women are simply not allowed to mention being bothered by any expression of sexism without having hordes descend on them and rip them to shreds for daring to say anything. This has gone so well, though. Am I being too hopeful in thinking the pendulum may be starting to swing in the opposite direction now?
“I do think the incident with Eller’s remarks is an important one to talk about, as well.”
I agree, and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m dismissing those remarks . . . merely letting Greta and Jen’s comments stand as an appropriate rebuke and moving on to what I think is another (possibly bigger) problem that has gone unmentioned.
Sorry, I meant that as a response to the people who were dismissing it as unimportant as though you shouldn’t have mentioned it at all before going into the main topic. Poorly placed comment.
But keep pushing that pendulum in the right direction every chance you get.
As much as I agree with Rebecca on the issues of contraception, abortion, and abstinence-only sex education, I think that it would be a big mistake for the “secular movement” to adopt these issues. There is a good reason that groups like the JREF and CFI eschew taking stands on political issues not directly related to their core missions–politicization will result in ostracizing and otherwise turning away people who share a common belief in core issues but otherwise disagree on various political issues.
As much as you might want to say that the evidence, or rationality, or science, supports a particular position on contraception or abortion, these are essentially moral issues that are not related to secularism or skepticism. You could make the same argument about evidence or science to support almost any pet political issue that you want.
The war in Iraq? Evidence didn’t support it, right? So, should the JREF or CSI or AA have come out strongly against the war and taken up the anti-war banner? All that would have done is turn people away with different political views–people who might have had a lot to contribute to the core missions of those organizations.
You could make similar arguments about economic issues, poverty issues, education reform, labor unions, budget deficits, land use, drug prohibition, prostitution, immigration, and the list goes on.
I have heard speakers at various TAMS and atheist conventions speak on almost many of those issues, and they are certainly topics that can–and should–be discussed within the secular (or skeptics, or whatever other name you want to give to it) communities. It seems like Rebecca would like the secular community to have what amounts to an official position, approaching a dogma, on issues that are important to her (and to be fair, important to me). All this would do is shrink the number of people that would be willing to identify themselves with “the movement” and who could contribute to the core values “the movement” and the core missions of the secular/skeptical/atheist organizations.
“As much as you might want to say that the evidence, or rationality, or science, supports a particular position on contraception or abortion, these are essentially moral issues that are not related to secularism or skepticism. You could make the same argument about evidence or science to support almost any pet political issue that you want.”
I’ve presented the evidence in support of my position on abstinence-only education, contraception, and abortion. What’s the evidence against it and why is it compelling?
I dont know, because I agree with your stance against abstinence only education, the evidence is pretty convincing that it doesn’t work and is a waste of money. I think if you read my post I was referring to abortion and contraception, wihch are moral issues unrelated to science, skepticism, and rationality. You can look at empirical evidence to say that abstinence-only doesn’t work. There is no science that applies to the moral question of whether you think abortion is murder or that contraception is the equivalent. The secular movement does not need official positions or dogmas on these issues.
Are you suggesting there are no rational or scientific reasons for contraceptives?
Actually, there is evidence that making abortion illegal means that pregnant women will seek unsafe, illegal abortions. Avoiding this higher death rate for pregnant women seems like a pretty scientific reason to keep abortion legal and prevent excess restrictions on it.
But there is ample empirical evidence that shows that women with access to birth control and abortion have longer, healthier lives, healthier children, higher levels of education and greater equality in society at large. There is empirical evidence that shows that a society with educated and empowered women is healthier all around (and more likely to be secular).
So, actually, there is a scientific basis for supporting the empowerment of women and access to birth control in all it’s forms.
And BTW, your point also means that these groups should never comment on global climate change, the 9/11 conspiracy theories, or any other anti-science position that people have already politicized.
Not really. These are issues that are capable of rational and scientific analysis to reach a conclusion based on that analysis, not political issues based on moral judgments. Many political issues are based on moral, or philosophical, or even emotional stances. I personally am against the war in Afganistan, but I know that this is based on moral and philosophical positions I have on a lot of issues. I don’t try to fool myself that my position is the only rational or scientifically valid one–that is an issue, like almost every other political issue I mentioned in my original comment based on something other than the kind of analytical framework that the skeptcal or secular movement is supposed to represent.
When in doubt, Double Down.
I’m trying to understand what you are saying here. Is a default position of being against a war unless you are talked into it not valid? Is that an emotional or non-rational perspective?
I don’t think so. I think the default position of “no” for any war is not a political or emotional or unrational perspective. It is the only rational perspective.
Even people who’s business is war at least claim that this is true for them. War is always costly. People get killed in them. Innocent people get killed in them. There is no such thing as an a-moral position that does not exclude war.
When we do enter a war it should be done because a rational evaluation of the situation demands it even though the default should be to avoid it.
Do you feel differently from this? Why?
tsarbomba, are you suggesting that basic equality (i.e., men and women treated fairly and similarly) is not a normal, basic goal that we should all share? It is. Given that it is, do note that much of the activity contravening equality is NOT rational well thought out ‘sketpical’ thinking, but rather the opposite. Take woo and women as an example. Women, via concerns that are quit expectable and also quite potent about health, babies, etc. etc., are targeted with all sorts of special female-directed woo. It’s a big deal, it’s important, its serious. Now, do you think the skeptical movement is really addressing this if women are primarily mentioned on stage (by men) as effective lures to bring others on board to the skeptical movement because they are pretty, sexy, or suggestive in their poses and necklines?
I think you need to step back and look at the bigger picture here.
There are lots of issues that are really important–frankly more important than skepticism or secularism: racism, sexism, religious intolerance, war, criminal justice, poverty, substance abuse, and the list could go on. I would submit that there much more social utility in discussing and promoting those issues than any of the typical issues skepticism focuses on (with some exceptions, like attacking vaccine denialism). My point is that such issues are seperate from the skeptical movement, and possibly less so for the secular movement. These movements are conglomerations of like-minded individuals with interests in a scientific examination of the paranormal, pseudoscience, and in the case of secularism, religion. If these movements were to spend their time and effort on much more important topics, they loose thier original focus, and purpose.
Racism and related issues about race is an issue that falls firmly and fully within the purview of skepticism. Most of the dialog about race and racism is anti-scientific or ascientific, politically motivated and ill-informed.
I find the disregard of race and racism as a skeptical topic to be especially insidious, and very closely related to Rebecca’s points about sexism. Privileged white males may disagree with me on that, though.
I totally disagree. Without a firm basis in skeptical, reality, evidence-based thinking, very few of these problems you mention can ever really be solved. I think a good education in critical thinking is essential, or people will just meander from one ism to another.
Bigfoot and crop circles and 19th century spiritualists may be trivial in the grand scheme of things, but they aren’t really what skepticism is all about. Skepticism is about understanding reality, and without that understanding, the problems you mention are intractable.
(I would greatly appreciate it if someone could point me to a sound logical argument why my assertion is true. I am going mostly off gut feeling and general experience here.)
“Now, do you think the skeptical movement is really addressing this if women are primarily mentioned on stage (by men) as effective lures to bring others on board to the skeptical movement because they are pretty, sexy, or suggestive in their poses and necklines?”
Is this true – women are *primarily* mentioned as eye candy for new recruits? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but *primarily*? I’ve been to quite a few skeptical events where women were equal participants and both sexes discussed issues that were important to everyone…and sexuality and attractiveness were not brought up.
This is definitely a skeptical issue. Especially when you take into account the misinformation and pseudo-science that is spread about abortions and contraception.
This is not a political issue; it is an issue that has been politicised.
It is an issue of freedom & Human rights.
I agree with you in part. Attacking pseudoscientific claims about abortion, like the canard that it causes cancer, is the kind of thing that the skeptics movement should do. What I object to is making the skeptics movement or secular movement or atheist movement officially a pro choice affiliated group. Even though I am pro abortion rights personally, I don’t see any reason that someone who is anti-abortion can’t feel comfortable and welcome calling themselves a skeptic, going to skeptical events, and belonging to skeptical groups.
“I agree with you in part. Attacking pseudoscientific claims about abortion, like the canard that it causes cancer, is the kind of thing that the skeptics movement should do. What I object to is making the skeptics movement or secular movement or atheist movement officially a pro choice affiliated group. ”
If we go, again, with the basic ideal of equality, then you’re pro-choice. The anti-choice movement is a patriarchal power grab by conservative men to control women’s reproductive rights. There is no valid “skeptical” position that allows for some sort of equivalence of pro- and anti-choice.
“This is not an issue of politics. It is an issue that has been politicised”. THIS. That’s exactly it- there is literally NO REASON outside the realm of religion to not be pro-choice. So, if you care about secularism, you care about reproductive rights. End of story. But, as a bonus to this issue, there is also a shitstorm of public misinformation we as skeptics should be all over.
“…core values “the movement” and the core missions of the secular/skeptical/atheist organizations.” — wait, who’s being dogmatic now? I’m sorry…could you enumerate these ‘core values’ and ‘missions’? I must have left my skeptic’s bible somewhere else.
How about rationality and a scientific world view that believes that by careful examination of evidence you can come to reliable conclusions.
Right…so where does that exclude anything involving politics?
I guess I should point out that as a “privileged white male” (in the words of a different commenter) I am apparently not supposed to even have opinions on such issues, much less express them. Here is my point–if you make the skeptics/secular movement pro abortion rights, you exclude those who disagree on that issue but agree on the core principles, same if you make it pro-immigration, or anti-gun, or pro-nationalized health coverage, or pro-drugs, or name virtually any other political issue that doesn’t directly attack science or the scientific method (or in the case of more broad secular or atheist movement, things directly related to core issues, like prayer in schools, religious discrimination, and giving government money to religious institutions). When you get to the point that you can’t be a “true skeptic” or a “true secularist” or a “true atheist” unless you toe the line on this or that issue, you are going to exclude a lot of people. But then what do I know. I’m just a privileged white male. I barely deserve to exist.
tsarbomba, give up on the dramatics. The “privileged white male” comment was said by a privileged white male. You can have an opinion . . . all we ask is that you understand your privilege.
“Here is my point–if you make the skeptics/secular movement pro abortion rights, you exclude those who disagree on that issue but agree on the core principles”
Yep, just like if you make the movement pro-vaccine, or anti-global warming denialism, or anti Holocaust denialism, or anti-AIDs denialism. If we’re pro-critical thinking and if we want to apply critical thinking to every area and especially those areas where we will do the most good, then we are pro-choice. I offered the science behind it and you haven’t offered any for the opposing view, so I fail to see how it’s unskeptical to support women’s rights.
“Here is my point–if you make the skeptics/secular movement pro abortion rights, you exclude those who disagree on that issue but agree on the core principles, same if you make it pro-immigration, or anti-gun, or pro-nationalized health coverage, or pro-drugs, or name virtually any other political issue that doesn’t directly attack science or the scientific method (or in the case of more broad secular or atheist movement, things directly related to core issues, ”
While I disagree, as I’ve stated, that anything other than a pro-choice position is in any way valid, I do agree with the point you are making here. A truly skeptical perspective can’t really be perfectly known to any of us because there are unkowns, vagaries, etc. But among those things that are obvious (like the fact that there is no skeptical position that allows for god, or miracles, etc. etc.) we do as a cultural/social phenomenon (the “movement” as it were) need to eschew purity in favor of building relationships that are important.
But you’re wrong about whether pro-choice is an issue here. It isn’t. Have you been to an abortion clinic under attack by Operation Rescue? I recommend it. You will understand much better what is really going on with the anti-choice movement if you do that.
I didn’t read anything that indicated tsarbomba thinks it’s “unskeptical” to support women’s rights. I believe that his original point was that the skeptical movement shouldn’t adopt an official position on abortion/contraception. Why is it so hard to believe that someone could rationally decide that aborting a fetus is wrong?
I and most of my skeptic friends (and, if you’ve been reading his posts, tsarbomba) are pro-choice. I would wager that most of us made our decisions on this issue based on both rational and emotional reasons. And that’s GREAT that we’re pro-choice. But I don’t think the movement should push the idea that this is the ONLY acceptable position.
If it is important to fight religion in the classroom when it is creationism vs evolution, then why is it not important to fight religion in the classroom when it is church dogma vs sexual education?
I would venture that the promotion of reproductive ignorance has a much more profound and immediate negative impact on women than an inaccurate portrayal of how Homo sapiens came to be here.
I don’t think that you can promote male/female equality without ensuring that women have full and complete (without male interference) control of reproduction to the extent that technology permits. To allow otherwise necessarily keeps the playing field tilted toward the male.
The skeptic movement is not a political party. Even if there is broad adherence to a particular political stance, no one in the movement is compelled to vote that way.
This is basically the inverse of the “Let’s have boobquake EVERY YEAR!!!” argument. It seems the problem with women’s issues in the skeptic movement is that for some reason (and this appears limited to women’s issues since we tackle many other controversial issues with no reservation), it suddenly becomes way more important to worry about how outside people are going to perceive the movement than about the truth. Advertising is important, but not as important as being right. Being a good skeptic was never about popularity, so we shouldn’t sacrifice integrity for approval points in any realm, including reproductive rights.
When rational people refuse to get involved in politics for fear of alienating some supposed ally we get stupid shit like this; Europe Calls for Ban on WiFi, Phones in Schools
And this; Minnesota voters to decide on gay marriage ban
And this; In South Dakota, Abortion Fight Goes On
I am quite tired of being told by my so-called allies that I need to sit down.
*If I say religion is rank superstition that does more harm than good I am told by the accommodationists that I will hurt the feelings of the faithful that agree about other topics.
*If I say to the creeper that he is being a creep I am told that I need to lighten up it was just a joke.
*If I say that medicine should be the purview of science and not those whose have no evidence I am told by some hippy-dippy types that I have a closed mind, or that I am afraid, or that I am a shill.
*If I say that GMOs are not Frankenfoods, or that WiFi can’t hurt you, or that organic foods aren’t all they are cracked up to be I am told that it is “better to be safe than sorry.”
I’m really getting tired of being told to sit down.
I don’t think I will any more.
Who is telling anyone to “sit down”? Certainly not me. Skeptic/secularist/atheist or whatever else, you should talk/blog/sing/etc about issues that you feel are important. My point is that the “movement” should not have anything approaching an official or accepted position on political issues that are not directy related to pseudo-science and anti-science (at least for skepticism).
tsarabomba, there is no “official” or “accepted” skeptical position on anything. There is only the compulsion to use only facts and logic in arguments and to call BS on anyone who tries to use something else.
If you have a belief and you think you can argue for it with facts and logic, then go for it. But if you get shot down with facts and logic, you have to change your belief if you are a skeptic. If you are unwilling to change your belief in the face of facts and logic, then you are not a skeptic.
It turns out that reality has a liberal bias, so it is real easy to be liberal and a skeptic. A conservative and a skeptic? Not so much.
Spoken like a true dogmatic ideologue. Does this assertion that “reality has a liberal bias” mean that a skeptic/secularist has to agree with nationalized medicine, or affirmative action, or speech restrictions for insulting religious minorities, or supporting laws favoring labor unions, or current policies on section 8 housing, or higher taxes, or subsidized day care, or name your particular liberal issue? Take that position if you want to set the “movements” back 20 years. These issues have nothing to do with skepticism or secularism and it is the height of arrogance to suggest that there should be a litmus test applied to skeptics/secularists where everyone has to adopt an overarching liberal political philosophy.
Yes, I am an ideologue that skepticism and a reliance on facts and logic to understand reality is the only way that understanding reality is going to happen. But if you can show me otherwise (with facts and logic) then I would change, so that makes me not dogmatic.
“Reality has a liberal bias” is a quote from Stephen Colbert
The reality based community is another quote.
No, it doesn’t mean that a skeptic has to accept any particular political position. But a skeptic has to use the process of skepticism to arrive at their political positions. A skeptic can’t just make stuff up, and can’t just accept as gospel stuff that other people just made up.
The skeptic’s default has to be “I don’t know” unless they have a chain of facts and logic that reach a conclusion.
I am extremely liberal. I don’t know of anyone who is more liberal than I am. Every bit of my liberalism is highly informed by my skepticism and is all pretty much self-consistent and compatible with reality as far as I know.
Just an example, the idea that abortion is murder depends on the idea that a fetus is a human person. That idea is incompatible with the idea of brain death. If a person is dead when their brain is irreversibly damaged to a certain degree, a person cannot be alive before they have a brain with that certain minimum functionality. People of faith believe that life begins when the soul enters and death occurs when the soul leaves. That magical belief allows them to arbitrarily put the beginning and end of life anywhere they want. The magical belief that person hood begins when an egg is fertilized leads to the logical conclusion that MZ twins are only one person, and that a mosaic individual (a single phenotype from multiple fertilized eggs) is multiple persons. No one believes these things, not even people of faith.
A skeptic can’t accept premises that lead to false beliefs. Non-skeptics can and do all the time. When a skeptic finds that a certain premise leads to a false belief, the skeptic examines that premise and modifies it as necessary such that it no longer logically leads to a false belief. Usually non-skeptics pick and choose the premises they want that lead to beliefs that benefit them over others. The skeptic adopts premises because they correspond with reality or because they lead to outcomes that correspond with reality, whether that reality benefits them or not.
You can be a skeptic and want low taxes. You can’t be a skeptic and want low taxes and high government benefits. That idea fails from arithmetic.
My comments, while prompted by what you said, were not directed at you. I have been increasingly annoyed by those who, in the name of creating a big tent, wish to downplay anything that may offend a possible ally.
I was told, by my wife, that I was and asshole on Easter because I had the audacity to point out that her conspiracy theory was bogus; after, I might add, listening to all manner of bullshit all day without comment.
I have seen, on this forum, people attacked for not swallowing the most recent paranoia regarding wifi, for daring to suggest that excusing human sex-trafficking is bad, for pointing out that some skeptics act less than skeptical or may be biased, or sexist, or closed to change, and on and on.
I have heard respected people in “the movement” suggest that those who are not experts, per their definition, have little to add to “the movement” or that they are doing skepticism “wrong” because they aren’t doing it a specific way or that “armchair” skepticism is worthless.
I have seen accommodationists telling “new atheists” that they are hurting the “movement” by simply pointing out that faith is not a skeptical position, that skepticism and atheism can not be conflated least we damage both beyond repair, that while they don’t have actual proof that this is so there is lots of research that supports this assertion (??!?), and that we must work with those people who are dead set against working with us.
I have seen, on this forum, that any time the topic turns to feminism, or unwanted advances, or sexual assault/abuse, or rape that the concern trolls show up to make sure we don’t unjustly accuse a man of something by asserting that unsubstantiated accusations happen “all the time” cuz “bitchez be like that”.
So yeah, I feel that people are figuratively being told to sit down by their supposed allies.
I feel there are many subjects that the leading organizations should steer clear of because they are not supported by science but women’s issues, especially reproductive rights, are not among them. There is plenty of science to back up the pro-choice, pro-contraception, anti-abstinence only position. They mostly deal with the physical and emotional well-being of women around the world so you and I may not be directly affected but let me assure you we are affected and they are science-based.
To put it another way, we can be a big tent that does very little or we can do something and possibly offend some people who may have one day joined. We do not need to be all things to all people, we are already handicapped by the fact that we try not to make shit up to support our position, we need not allow our opponents to set the debate on top of that. If the religious wish not to join the movement because they can’t support separation, or evolution, or stem-cell research, or reproductive rights maybe they are not really the allies we thought they would be.
The only core value of the skeptical movement (actually the only value) is that all arguments can only be from facts and logic. If you are willing to only use facts and logic, the skeptical movement can take you anywhere.
It has been demonstrated that two individuals with common and known priors can’t honestly disagree on posteriors.
The “priors” are the facts and how those facts are used to formulate posteriors is valid logic.
If two skeptics agree on the facts, then they will agree on what can be deduced from those facts. Skeptics have a way to resolve disagreements as to what the facts are, they do experiments and look at the data.
It is especially important that political arguments be based on facts and logic. Unfortunately usually they are not, and that makes for very poor political decisions.
Fuck. Yes. Thank you, Rebecca!
Keep singing that sweet song of skeptical feminism. This movement needs to catch up to 20th Century (no, I didn’t make a mistake there.)
We have to be careful about employing terms like “women’s health,” “abortion,” “reproductive rights” and such interchangeably when they in fact refer to different, if related, things.
Lumping all these issues together as “women’s rights” or “women’s health” obscures more than it clarifies.
Let’s take abortion, for example. There are plenty of people who have no problem whatsoever with sex ed, condoms, etc. but do support restrictions on legal elective abortion if the pregnancy in question goes beyond a certain point.
Positions on the abortion issue (issueS, really) run the gamut from
Maximum Prohibition — NO! Not even to save the mother, fetuses have souls, etc.
Maximum Allowance — YES! No restriction at any point during the pregnancy, even if there is no medical need for it. There are no legal person-hood issues until the very moment of birth and why are we even talking about this?
If one takes the Max Allowance position then so be it, but let’s be clear that’s as much a matter of politics and ideology as of science.
To simply present that position as an axiom of Skepticism (Feminist or otherwise) or equate dissent from it as an attack on women’s health, rights, or reproductive freedom is a textbook example of a Poisoning the Well fallacy; it makes any evidence adduced by opponents irrelevant because hey, they’re just defending Male Privilege, Patriarchy, etc.
Framing a debate so that one position is the incarnation of principle and ‘off the table’ regarding evidential challenges is not Skepticism; it’s dogma.
So, Rebecca, let me ask you point-blank:
Is it your position that the “Secular Movement’s Position on Women’s Rights” is, or should be, that of the Maximum Allowance stance described above?
I am all for separation of church and state. Yeah secular movement :) There is no reason to consider the issues of: instituting abstinence-only education, preventing all access to contraception, and making abortion illegal except to support church dogma. I don’t want superstitious beliefs to infringe on my rights to make good, logical decisions for myself and my family. I agree these are certainly issues for the secular movement. Thanks for the article!
Rebecca said (and for some reason I couldn’t directly reply to her sub-comment):
“Yep, just like if you make the movement pro-vaccine, or anti-global warming denialism, or anti Holocaust denialism, or anti-AIDs denialism. If we’re pro-critical thinking and if we want to apply critical thinking to every area and especially those areas where we will do the most good, then we are pro-choice. I offered the science behind it and you haven’t offered any for the opposing view, so I fail to see how it’s unskeptical to support women’s rights.”
It is not skeltical to support women’s rights. I support women’s rights, as, I would argue, do the vast majority of skeptics/secularists. The issue of whether abortion is a moral right or moral wrong is not a scientific issue–if you think it is murder, it is murder, and you don’t need science to say that what you perceive as murder is wrong. Indeed, our society allows people to kill other people for various reasons, such as self-defense, war, executions, and so forth. These are deemed by society to be justified and are thus not murder. But this is a moral judgment, not a scientific one (unless you want to assert that such exceptions to the prohibitions on taking a life are necessary for society to function and want to back that up with socialogical research, but I would argue that even that is a moral judgments). Moral judgments are where your gut, or spirit, or whatever, informs your view of the world. My moral judgment on the issue of abortion or birth control is the same as yours, Rebecca, but it is still just a moral judgment, and not all skeptics/secularists should have to agree, and having the same moral judgment should not be the ticket for entry into skeptical/secular groups or movements.
Sorry for the typo. Meant to say “it’s not unskeptical to support women’s rights.”.
I think we may have a terminology problem here.
The things you are talking about (whether a woman should use cotraception or get an abortion) are moral issues and, I agree, should not be advocated by secular groups. We are not suggesting that the JREF tells women that they personally should get/not get abortions or that CFI advocate what a particular woman does for contraception.
But there should be a clear statement that women should be educated without interferance, that they should have access to contraception if they choose to use it and that abortion should be a safe and affordable alternative that they should be free to choose without jumping through propaganda hoops to get there.
There are lots of data that show that educating women is one of the easiest ways to improve not only the lot of said women but the entire society, that access to contraception not only keeps women healthier and happier but also reduces the spread of STDs, that safe legal abortions are not detrimental but rather allow women to be more educated, healthier, and earn more money.
That respect for for women raises the lot of all those around her, except perhaps an abusive spouse/parent/religion, and that those are indeed skeptical goals.
Oops! In my list of rights in my reply to Jaznet77’s comment, I totally left out medical and in particular reproductive rights, which was the principle theme of Rebecca’s post. Sorry. Thanks, mr. m. for reminding me.
I am an atheist; I believe in the equality of the sexes, but I cannot agree with abortion.
I have no problem with sex education (of all types, not just abstinence-only, which is a joke), and I am in full support of all manner of birth control being accessible to women.
I would make exceptions for medical issues and rape, but I am very uncomfortable with abortion. I suspect that as science progresses, allowing us to gestate and birth children outside of the womb, we will be forced to decide whether to allow a fetus to be ended or whether the state will step in and bring the child to birth.
I imagine that an adoption agency could even arrange for a prospective family to pay for the care of the fetus until birth.
So, are there other atheists that are uncomfortable with abortion?
Even if you think that an embryo is a full person, there is no other case where a person has the legal right to use another person’s body against his or her will. You cannot be legally required to donate blood or other organs or tissues to save the life of someone who will die without them. I only request the same right to determine the use of my uterus. And if you do think that an embryo is the equivalent of a person, then why would you make an exception for “people” conceived by rape?
Parents are legally required to care for their children, which in this case means gestation.
I base the rape condition on the fact that
1) the conception is based on non-consensual sex, and
2) the physical and mental torture imposed by forcing a woman to gestate her rapist’s child.
You are equating a fetus in utero with a child. At some stages in utero, a fetus does not have a functioning brain and so can’t be “brain-alive”, the state that living humans are in before they become brain-dead.
There is no moral compulsion to support something that is not brain-alive. If there is, then there is a moral compulsion to support brain-dead bodies.
I believe this argument is unconvincing for the simple fact that if one were to not interfere with the fetus, then it will develop a brain and eventually grow up, leave home, and be independently viable.
No, parents are not legally required to give their body to their children in any other case. Parents also have the choice to give children up for adoption.
Consent to sex does not imply consent to pregnancy. I also think you underestimate the real physical and psychological risks of continuing pregnancy even unrelated to rape.
generichuman – I’m also uneasy with abortion, but I think this comes from my previously strongly-held religious beliefs. I’ve been an atheist and skeptic for less than a year, so I’m still working through a lot of these issues. I live in the UK so looked-up some abortion statistics for England and Wales here:
91% of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks, which I don’t have a problem with. I suppose I’m more uneasy about late-term abortions as no-one seems to be sure when brain activity starts, and when the foetus becomes ‘aware’. But again, in a straight choice between the mother’s life or the foetus’ life, I believe the mother’s life should always take precedent, as she is a fully grown adult human with other people (usually a family) who depend on her.
I do strongly believe though that governments should provide impartial factual information for women about abortion, and where to go for non-biased advice. Even doing a brief search to find the statistics above brought a ridiculous array of highly emotive websites. I think it should be down to the individual woman concerned. As a woman myself, the thought of being forced to carry to term an unwanted pregnancy is pretty appalling.
Also in the contraception and birth-control issue I’d like to recommend a book ‘Half the Sky’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. Its about fighting poverty in developing countries through educating and emancipating women and girls. There’s a couple of interesting chapters that talk about birth control and contraception, and how giving women control over when and how many children to have, has a positive impact on society as a whole – men and boys included! In fact, the whole book is about how emancipating women and giving them equality benefits ALL of society.
Nice post – it’s really depressing reading about the goddamn Republican party and I’m not even American.
Going back to the conference though, Eller was kind off half right (at best,) when he mentioned “funny” It’s probably a good thing if people use humour to get their point across. And it’s one of the more effective ways of communication. Heaven knows the right wing gives satirists plenty of ammunition.
If you go back and examine your posts I think you will find that people are disagreeing with you because you are making a number of baseless assertions whose only support are logical fallacies.
So far in this thread, as evidence to support your position you’ve put up – morals and a bunch of hand waving.
You said, “Moral judgments are where your gut, or spirit, or whatever, informs your view of the world.”
That’s skeptical? Really?
Are you saying that using one’s own morality to inform a decision (especially on an issue like abortion) is less than skeptical? I know many people who are against the death penalty. Even if they were presented for logically-sound reasons for why a particular, rightly-convicted murderer should be put to death, they would still object because they see the death penalty as *morally wrong*. And, for most, their position will likely never change.
Are you saying that no matter how illogical one’s morals are, how ill-informed the conclusions that were used to reach one’s morality, that it is such a sacred thing, morals cannot be brought into question as being a rediculous reason upon which to base a decision?
I’m saying, that yes, using ones own morality to try and inform a decision can be outright stupid, foolish, and a mistake, especially when trying to argue from a position of ‘gut feeling’ and ‘spirituality’.
Oh, you’re quite free to question anyone’s morals as you see fit; just don’t be surprised when someone disagrees that his/her stance on abortion is not as “illogical” as you think it is. When it comes to questions of what is/what is not human life and what right to life any individual has, not everyone is going to evaluate the evidence and come up with the exact same position as you.
I’m not expecting people to arrive at the same conclusion that I’ve arrived at.
I do expect people to actually provide evidence that led them to their conclusion and back up their assertions. So far in this thread it’s been:
“Abortion is a moral issue” followed up with “Morals are gut feelings or spirituality.”
Which is about as far opposite on the skeptical spectrum one can sit out before falling off the cliff into “God said it’s bad.”
That is illogical. That’s not a conclusion based off the examination of evidence.
Moreover, there has yet to be ANY evidence presented against abortion that makes logical sense that isn’t couched in religion, privilege, or woo.
To make that statement, you need to come up with a logically sound argument for the death penalty. I don’t think there is one.
I do have one question for Rebecca: What exactly do you mean by “join the fight”? Lobbying on these issues, bringing speakers to conferences, co-sponsoring events, encouraging members to donate to other groups? As someone involved in these things I’d like to hear your thoughts.
That said, here’s my $.02 on this. Disclosure: I volunteer at CFI DC and am also a feminist democratic socialist. My wife Melody is Executive Director of the CFI branch and has much more extensive knowledge of the feminist movement since she’s volunteered for them in the past.
1) Feminist and progressive organizations have an uneasy relationship with out-atheists. I’m not sure if they see it as threatening their religious outreach or simply allegiance to progressive/social justice churches. I have even seen fliers from (I believe it was NOW) that give religious talking points for abortion for conservative lawmakers. I would argue that secular people who are active have to assert themselves first and reform these explicit progressive organizations first and foremost. We donate to them all the time. I may be wrong so if others have more experience please tell me otherwise.
2) Secular organizations have limited resources. CFI, AHA, AA, Secular Coalition etc are all 501 (c)(3) and 501 (c)(4) corporations. This means you can see their annual tax statements and see what kind of money they are pulling in. Compared to NARAL, NOW, Feminist Majority, Moveon.org, etc it is a drop in the bucket.
3) Related to (2), this means there are only so many issues secular groups can tackle, and given limited resources it make plenty of sense to allocate to the issues they are strongest in and let more established and experienced progressive organizations handle these issues.
4) I’ve joining numerous local progressive groups and frankly it’s off-putting to get forwarded an action alert for every single progressive item on the agenda (and there are a lot). If we try to do everything, then we end up doing nothing.
5) Global warming, labor rights, and peace activism could also be included as part of the secular/skeptic/humanist movement, and indeed many secular folks participate in them on their own. But again, with limited resources and lack of expertise, a line needs to be drawn.
When I encourage people to get involved, I first mean I want them to start paying attention to what the Religious Right is doing to women. I want them to tell their representatives to stop kowtowing to a loud and wealthy minority, and to stop basing policy on Biblical doctrine. And yes, I want them to tell secular organizations that these are important issues.
I understand that orgs can’t hit every important topic, and they might not think women’s rights and equality are important . . . it’s their call. However, orgs that have as part of their mission statement the protection of separation of church and state as well as humanistic values have little excuse for why they shouldn’t address the ongoing religious war on women.
Secular orgs might not have the same money as the largest feminist orgs, but that’s not the point. Secular orgs have access to a large base of people who could be alerted that this is happening. It doesn’t take much: articles, action alerts, a clear stance against the anti-woman, anti-choicers, the hosting and highlighting of talks from more skeptical feminists . . . I’ll again point to BHA as an ideal organization. They regularly highlight religion’s attack on women in a way that can motivate their supporters to do something about it.
The BHA doesn’t have some magical money printer that the other orgs lack. What they do have is a keen interest in promoting all humanistic values and promoting good science, even when it may annoy a small percentage of conservative supporters.
Ok, so I looked further at the BHA. The link you provided was a blog post, and they did have a well-researched official position on abortion. That said, if you look at the BHA’s national conference in June: http://bhaconference.org.uk/programme/ there’s not a lot of women’s issues or progressive politics that I could discern. On the issue of abortion, admittedly Britain doesn’t face the same challenges that the US does, however the Cameron government’s austerity measures are a big item in the UK and I don’t see any mention of that (nor much else on poverty/social justice etc). So I suppose you’re right that US organizations could do what the BHA does, but that wouldn’t be a whole lot IMO. Again, if they are doing significant campaigns that I’m not aware of please let me know. In addition, I believe the BHA has a higher membership per capita than US orgs do but I may be wrong.
You did say one thing that I’m not sure I agree with and that is that US organizations aren’t doing enough because they are afraid of pissing off Republican or libertarian atheist members. I have spoken to enough high-ranking folks at national organizations to know that they have legitimate concerns about mission creep and limited staff spending not enough time on (for lack of a better term) “core issues” like church/state separation and advancing humanism as a general philosophy.
I don’t want to put words in Rebecca’s mouth, but I think what she is asking for is a simple statement. Just knowing that the organizations that you like and support feel a specific way about an issue may make those who would ignore these issue think again.
It costs next to nothing to simply say that you stand with someone in their fight. But that support can mean the world.
*cue Sarah McLachlin song*
‘On the issue of abortion, admittedly Britain doesn’t face the same challenges that the US does…’
That depends a little on your viewpoint and where you live. There is actually one part of the UK where abortion is illegal – Northern Ireland. Abortion can be carried out in NI to preserve the mother’s life or if there is a risk of long-term physical or mental health. Otherwise it’s illegal.
The only route for Northern Ireland women that choose to have an abortion is to travel to England for a private abortion at their own cost (since the NHS won’t cover it).
From a news report in the Belfast Telegraph:
Figures released by Health Minister Michael McGimpsey show that there were 1,343 abortions carried out in England and Wales where the woman gave a home address in Northern Ireland in 2007 — the majority of which would be regarded as illegal here.(1)
The Catholic Church and four pro-life organisations have declared themselves against moves to liberalise abortion legislation.
The groups are the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), LIFE and Precious Life.
Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church is also against attempts to change the law. In 1984 the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the introduction of the Abortion Act or any like legislation to Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, politics and religion are highly intertwined in Northern Ireland and there is just no escaping it.
I agree that organizations promoting science and secular values should be very vocal when it comes to women’s rights – and I’m happy to say that CFI has been doing this for years.
Sometimes the work is done in the form of blog posts and commentary:
But the real work has been done by our CFI Office of Public Policy. For years they have issued White Papers/Position Papers on numerous issues important to science and secularism, including public health and contraception, and the importance of appropriate sexuality education. These papers are distributed to decision-makers and legislators, and they are also a resource for our CFI branch leaders who engage in state and local advocacy work.
CFI’s OPP has also lobbied extensively:
* for the protection of reproductive rights and accurate sex education
* for increased funding for sex education and prevention of HIV/AIDS, other STI’s, and unintended pregnancies
* for H.R. 1144, the “Fullfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act”
* for the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, to ban pay discrimination and discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability in the workplace
* AGAINST unjust bans on abortion coverage
* AGAINST the “provider refusal” regulation that would permit reproductive health professionals to refust their services on religious/ideological grounds
Sometimes this lobbying was done in person on Capital Hill, sometimes it was through “Action Alerts” to our members, and sometimes it was both. It was also often done in conjunction with other organizations, which not only advanced the specific cause, but also increased awareness of our cause for science and secularism among those other groups.
We have also responded to amendments on the stimulus bill, the appropriations bill, and the budget that would affect women’s reproductive freedom.
I am particularly proud of the work some of our CFI branch leaders have done to advance women’s rights, especially people like Reba Boyd Wooden, the executive director of CFI-Indiana. During this recent string of attacks on women, Reba attended many of the state legislative session about these bills, she spoke out against them, she kept her CFI people informed, and, perhaps most importantly, she added CFI-Indiana’s “heft” to a network of Indiana groups who were advocating against the terrible legislation, a network she is well-tapped-into because she also serves on the board of the Indiana ACLU.
Other branch leaders are similarly plugged into their local ACLU’s, AU’s, and other orgs in order to amplify the science and secular viewpoint in public policy discussions. They also work hard to create relationships with their local representatives. For example, CFI-Southern Arizona recently presented an award to Senator Krysten Sinema, in part for her work in support of women and women’s health issues (but also for a lot of very sound science votes). This follows a series of similar awards granted to federal legislators by the CFI OPP over the past few years. Many recipients have been women and many were cited for the support they give to women and women’s issues – and now they all know about the huge block of constituents who support policy based on science and secular values.
Of course there is always more that needs to be done – there are so many ways to impact public policy – but it’s impossible to ignore the costs of all this work. CFI has had to cut back on its lobbying work due to lack of funds, but we continue to do as much as we can because, like you, we DO think it is important.
(We’ve also done good work for LGBT rights, but that’s a whole other post…)
Keep up the good work,
Thanks Lauren, that’s great info. I’ll look more into what the Public Policy office is getting up to!
I support the legal standard of (and reasoning supporting) the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision.
Keep in mind, I’m talking about the real, actual ruling — not the Urban Legend version beloved of those who think Roe invalidated any and all restrictions on elective abortions. It did no such thing.
Roe acknowledged BOTH women’s ownership of their own bodies with consequent rights to make reproductive choices AND a legitimate State interest in protecting the life of the unborn past a certain point of development.
I believe it is deranged to accord the protections of legal person-hood to a blastocyst, but it equally absurd to pretend there is no meaningful difference between that “clump of cells” and what a woman will be carrying late in her pregnancy.
Put another way: I do not regard the birth canal as some kind of magical portal between humanity and non-humanity.
As someone who has a birth canal, I regard it as a magical portal between the use of my body and the non-use of my body. It might not seem like much of a difference to you, but for me, there’s a pretty big difference depending on which side of the magical portal that baby is on. There are millions of babies on the outside of my birth canal, and they have little effect on my life. But inside, that’s a different story. Please try not to erase the experiences and rights of the actual people who have these magical portals. I imagine you would feel similarly in a hypothetical case where an adult person was attached to your body to use your organs or blood.
“But there should be a clear statement that women should be educated without interferance, that they should have access to contraception if they choose to use it and that abortion should be a safe and affordable alternative that they should be free to choose without jumping through propaganda hoops to get there.”
This completely avoids the central question of why some of our fellow skeptics, secularists and science advocates oppose abortion, or oppose it in certain circumstances.
The issue is not “choice” itself but rather WHAT is being chosen. If we oppose late-term elective abortions because we think they needlessly destroy a viable human life which should instead be protected, what does it matter that it’s “a choice” or “safe?”
Your suggested position statement does the same thing I wrote about in my initial post: cloaks a political/ideological position in the raiment of impartiality.
Its one thing to say: “The debate around abortion and related issues should be governed by strict adherence to empirical facts and sound logic.”
But if we add: “Also, abortion should be safe and legal” then we are taking a political/ideological stance and advocating a certain legal regime regardless of whether or not we throw in the disclaimer that “We’re not telling anyone to have an abortion…”
I meant exactly what I said.
You talk about the “urban legend” of what Roe v Wade actally said, and I agree, most do not understand that ruling correct. I obviously feel Roe v Wade doesn’t go far enough, but while we are talking about “urban legends” lets address one you used.
“Late-term elective abortions” are a myth, a bugaboo dreamed up by the right-to-life crowd. By the time a woman is entering her third trimester (the usual definition of late-lerm) she has decided to keep the baby or does not realize she is pregnant. After that point the health of the mother or discovered congenital problems with the fetus are the usual reason for that choice. You may be able to find the rare instance where a change in circumstance (lose of job, lose of spouse, first discovery of the pregnancy, etc.) led to the decision but they are exceedingly rare. Women do not just wake up in there 7th month screaming “shit, get this thing out of me!”, that is something out of the “moral majority’s” fever dreams.
My stomach is turned by the thought of “elective late-term abortion”, my stomach is also turned by the thought of a real live chupacabra too, turns out we should fear each equally; that is not at all.
When I say affordable I mean we should not write laws to excluded it from insurance (including medicare and medicaid). If you do you push it into the realm of the rich/poor dynamic that was mentioned elsewhere.
I think Bil Clinton said it best that abortion should be kept “safe, legal, and rare.” We do that by supporting all women’s rights.
I am guessing that you are trying to go for hyperbole but lets be fair, you can’t call something a myth and say it is rare; give realistic examples of when it might occur then conflate it’s existence with that a mythical creature, the chupacabra
Yes, myth was hyperbole it is so rare as to be non-existent not actually non-existent.
Thank you for calling me on it, when discussing important issues it’s important to be precise.
Oh, one addendum:
“Safe and affordable,” you wrote. Affordable? As in, subsidized when necessary from public tax revenues?
I don’t necessarily have a problem with this (I support Roe, see above) but now we’re not only saying the government should remove legal barriers to elective abortions but also help pay for them if the need arises?
All this is just straightforward, good medical science advocacy and not politics? Really?
tsara, no. As a skeptic you don’t get to arbitrarily define terms and then impose your arbitrary definitions on everyone else and then use those arbitrary definitions to control their behavior. That is what you are doing by saying that people can define abortion as murder and then it is.
As I mention above, if person hood is defined to start with egg fertilization, and if killing a fertilized egg is murder, then MZ twins are one person and killing one of them isn’t murder because the person that derived from that fertilized egg is still alive.
When human life starts is not a scientific issue, but any answer as to when human life starts needs to be compatible with science and not just something someone made up to use to control women.
Any definition of human life that includes brain death has to conclude that a fetus is not a human life until after it has a brain that is alive which presumes certain brain characteristics.
Any definition of human life that includes brain death has to conclude that a fetus without a brain is not a living human person no matter what its gestational age.
Any reasoning that compels a woman to continue to provide sustenance to a fetus against her will must compel every other person to provide sustenance to every other human in corresponding need of sustenance if providing that sustenance is less intrusive. In other words, politicians can’t compel a woman to carry a fetus to term while there are still human beings without sustenance due to insufficient taxes.
It is the hypocrisy of those who would restrict reproductive rights that shows that their position is not about morality, it is about control of women’s bodies. If they actually cared about the welfare of the unborn, that concern would not stop at birth and they would support funding for prenatal care and health care for children. They don’t. It is about power and control.
People may not like these conclusion, but skeptics don’t reach conclusions because they want to or because they like them, they reach them because that is where facts and logic lead them.
First, brilliant post @Rebecca Watson. I find it disturbing when people use religion, or anything else for that matter, to stomp on basic human rights.
To be clear I am pro-choice. But I do think when it comes to abortion, there seem to be a few people saying when it comes to abortion, you can’t be a skeptic and be opposed to some abortions. As @daedalus2u and others pointed out, you can’t reasonably/critically claim a clump of un/barely differentiated cells is human life. And brain activity/development is certainly a reasonable marker. But the problem is, its a hard marker to define. Brain development doesn’t stop at or even post birth. While there is rapid brain development in the “third trimester” pregnancies are technically viable at 24 weeks, in the “second trimester”. I don’t think anyone here is going to say a new born isn’t alive. While it is completely uncritical to think life begins at conception, it is equally uncritical to think life happens at birth.
I don’t know when, during a pregnancy, that “magical” point is. And yes the unborn child is attached to the mother and I firmly believe, even after this “magical point” when it comes to the mother’s health and safety, it is and should be her choice. But when you are a parent, you are granted a public trust (for lack of a better term)to protect and care for your child. A child isn’t property, even if still physically attached to the mother. By allowing that child to develop into a person, at some point in the pregnancy there is an obligation to protect that person (and again I am not saying against the life/health of the mother). I just don’t know where that point is.
I am skeptical that threaded commetns are a good thing.
Note/restate: The only reasonable and skeptical perspective on abortion rights is pro choice. That statement says nothing about abortion, one way or another. This has to do with viewing society from the perspective of fairness and equality instead of patriarchy. This isn’t “political,” it’s medieval vs. modern.
Reality does in fact have a liberal bias. This does not apply, presumably, to every single issue, and it may only apply in a trivial way to many issues, but there are plenty of issues where the liberal or progressive position is supportable from a skeptical perspective and the anti-progressive position is based on some hooey. Almost everything that has to do with science policy at the medium to large scale falls into this category. At a finer scale it may not. For instance, that we need to understand our planet better and to use that knowledge is the correct, liberal, progressive, position and is supported by a skeptical point of view. How much money we should spend on the space program, or if we should have humans going into space or not, are issues not clearly defined as progressive/anti-progressive or skeptical/non-skeptical. Could be wrong about that, but I think that’s probably true.
I am certain that both Desiree Schell and I will read this post and thread very carefully before going on the air in June to talk about these issues.
Also, note that over on Pharyngula, PZ Myers has approved of what some might call “political activism” as OK with or even connected to “godlessness” which is, in turn, an overlapping thingie* with skepticism.
*I’m using a word like “thingie” instead of “magesteria” just because.
I happen to come down on the same side of the issue as you do. I want my sister, my niece, and all of my friends, including you to be in control of their bodies, not a government…err…body.
I hope that the JREF does not take a stance on abortion. With the exception of the refutation of scientifically inaccurate facts, science has nothing to say about the validity of limiting abortion by a community on moral grounds. It simply isn’t a skeptical issue.
It is a moral issue.
I have read through all of the comments and I pretty much agree with tsarbomba about this. Ok, ok, sure. His “privileged white male” shtick was not helpful, but I guess if I had my arguments mis-characterized so many times, I might be a bit testy too.
Thanks for the forum,
PS You know I love you, 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.”
Oh come on! That’s an insult to the many pro-women speakers and attendees who not only don’t engage in such behavior, but call people on it.
“Oh come on! That’s an insult to the many pro-women speakers and attendees who not only don’t engage in such behavior, but call people on it.”
LOL wut? That actually supports what I’m saying: they have to call people on it, because that’s the stuff being said on stage. I assure you that, while YMMV, the number of times women’s rights have been mentioned on a stage pales in comparison to the number of times women’s attractiveness has been mentioned.
Ah, but you didn’t say “women’s rights”. Had you done so, I would have agreed with you. You said “the only time women are mentioned”.
It’s like you’re punching me in the face, all over again :)
Sorry to be unclear in the post…when I say “women are directly mentioned” I don’t mean that women’s names are said aloud, or that women appear on stage. I mean when we talk about women, as a sex, what do we focus on? Do we focus on the specific pseudoscience and religious claptrap aimed at them? Or do we focus on their looks?
Even when the topic is “where are all the women,” it often includes problematic points like “well of COURSE we want them around…we’re men after all, har har har!”
It’s rare that I see anyone directly addressing the problems that women face.
Your quick wit and charisma coupled with the fact that you bob and weave arguments like Laila Ali make it nearly pointless to argue with you.
Plus, you’re damn sexy in those sparkly Chuck Taylors you wear.
(I’m gonna pay for that one, I just know it)
More importantly, you have reminded me (as I need to be from time to time) that there are those out there who would prohibit women from exercising their reproductive rights.
Because of you raising the issue, I’m going to do something about it in the next few days: I’m going to donate to a good organization, bring up the subject to male friends of mine and maybe even do some volunteer work. Seriously, I mean it.
I still don’t think abortion is a skeptical issue, though.
@tsarbomba: enough with the victimization already.
And yes while the secular movement is supposedly only about religion and science, it still has a large part to play with civil rights and justice. And frankly I despise right wingers regardless of whether they are religious or not. It’s got so bad that the ultimate insult nowadays seems to be that he or she is a “liberal.” Well I’m proud to have liberal views for one. In fact it all seems to go hand in hand, you can just about guarantee that when it comes to any moral decisions that the Vatican, the Republicans, Tea party, the Catholic league etc will be on the wrong side.
Atheism can be a force of good and we shouldn’t need to apologize or tread lightly for that. Dammit.
Being funny. Being sexy. Connecting gender, skepticism and critical thinking with sexual expression. Beaver-licking. Holding workshops themed “Angry Vagina Craft Time”, where attendees are invited to “craft cunts”. Throwing bordello-themed parties. Even expressing a “win” situation, if British actor Matt Smith got naked on television.
Things Skepchick.org never do, in order to get the message out.
I know I shouldn’t feed the troll and I swear I won’t from here on out, but this sort of damaging bullshit must be answered at least once: no, you’re totally right: we do not oppose women celebrating and discussing their own sexuality and encouraging others to not feel ashamed about the fact that vaginas exist. We do not slut shame. We acknowledge that it’s okay for women to be sexual and funny. Yes, we refuse to fit nicely into the virgin/whore boxes you’ve kindly set up for us.
Aaaaaaand I’m done!
I haven’t decided yet but I may ban this troll. Others who have seen him fishing elsewhere can feel free to weigh in on whether he adds anything good to this site.
Update: ran the banning idea past the Skepchicks and so far they are in favor of keeping the troll as a play-thing.
Can you connect the dots for me? I’m being serious when I ask, for example, if a woman sends “confusing signals” to a man who then rapes her, you think the man should receive a lighter sentence?
I get the attempt at sarcasm, but your point is a non-sequitur. None of the things you mentioned are in opposition to the women’s issues being discussed here.
Virgin/whore boxes indeed.
I am not making a point about confusing signals wrt women being attacked by rapists.
My point is, if you are criticizing other people for being misogynistic for implying that it helps the message if the messenger is funny or attractive, you should not at the same time promote the idea that being funny, attractive (“smart is sexy”), etc., is helping the message.
Which is what is attempted, e.g., by expressing a “win” situation, if British actor Matt Smith got naked on television. How on Earth is that not just as sexist – possibly even more – as implying that it helps the message if the messenger is funny or attractive? What if I – being a man – said that it is a “win” situation, if Rebecca got naked on television? That would be denounced as sexist – and rightly so! I would never do that, it is preposterous!
I’m sorry, but there are conflicting messages here. I simply don’t get why it is OK for a woman to imply that it helps the message if the messenger is nude – on television, no less – but not OK for a man to imply that it helps the message if the messenger is funny or attractive.
Wait, which message is Matt Smith promoting?
Not the message that *Matt Smith* is promoting. The message that *Skepchick.org* is promoting.
What does “funny” have to do with anything? I don’t think anyone had any problem with Eller saying Criss is funny. (Unless she wasn’t intending to be and her readers were cruelly mocking her, but if that were the case, surely someone would have mentioned it. I’m not familiar with her blog, but I don’t think think there’s any problem with “funny.”)
Rebecca specifically referred to the “funny” part of the comment as something perfectly acceptable, if I parsed her sentence correctly.
If you don’t see any difference between “funny” and “attractive”, the former is an intellectual accomplishment and the latter is an accident of birth and social convention. Unless you mean “attractive” as in “promoting interest and curiosity”, as in the legal term “attractive nuisance.” I don’t think that’s what Eller meant, as he would have shown a picture of Criss blowing something up or something. Or does it, like the recent Dunning incident, all come down to poor photo selection?
I read it the way you did: “Funny” is on the list of things we can be. “Attractive” is not.
That’s the point: There is a difference, when it comes to Eller making his remark: Funny he can say, yes. Attractive, absolutely out of the question!
Yet, elsewhere, Skepchick.org puts sexiness on the list of things we can be.
As you say, it probably is, in both cases, Eller and Dunning, just a matter of choice that was interpreted differently than was intended. But that does not entitle Skepchick.org to make up a list of things we can be, and use that as a moralistic sledgehammer they can bang other skeptics on the head with.
As much good as Skepchick.org does, they are not the moral guardians of skeptics. Especially if they don’t practice what they – if you’ll pardon the word – preach.
Yeah, but you said:
“I simply don’t get why it is OK for a woman to imply that it helps the message if the messenger is nude – on television, no less…”
You are referring to Matt Smith, right? On TV? Matt Smith, naked on TV? What message is Matt Smith promoting?
No, I am referring to the message Skepchick.org wants to promote.
Here is the quote, from a blog entry by Rebecca, about Boobquake, a little over a year ago:
“It’s very easy to prove me wrong here. Get Matt Smith naked on television for the next several weeks, and if flights are still not taking off in London then I’m correct. If the ash disperses and flights return to normal, my theory doesn’t hold up and I accept that. Either way, we all win.”
That’s my point: How is it OK to imply that it helps the message if the messenger is nude – on television, no less – but not OK for a man to imply that it helps the message if the messenger is funny or attractive?
I hope that clarifies.
Oh, well it depends. Are we talking about Matt Smith as a human person or as The Doctor? I would say there is a difference. And no spoilers please! I’m just about to start his episodes :)
I will get naked if Claus will go away.
Wait. What was the question, again?
I had a WTF? moment reading Claus’s reply to my comment, so I re-read the original post. I think the question is should the skeptical movement be more engaged in addressing social issues, in particular the religious right’s war on women, and in very particular reproductive rights?
Almost nobody here (with the notable exception of Lauren Becker) is talking about that. Claus seems to be questioning Skepchick’s right to even discuss the issues. Most seem sidetracked to talking about Eller’s remarks, which were the jumping off point for Rebecca’s post, but which I don’t think warrant more than a Jethro Gibbs style head thwack, and certainly not the vast bulk of 120 comments.
Most (37 of 120 by my count)of the comments that are actually related to the main topic seem to be about abortion rights (predictably), so here’s my take. Most of those comments relate to people who disagree that access to abortion is a right that women should have (though I couldn’t find any comments actually supporting that position, tsarbomba mentions the hypothetical anti-abortion person who is otherwise a skeptic and wants to belong to the community), or who think that being pro-choice will alienate potential allies, or who think that abortion is not a skeptical issue.
“Pro-Choice” is not the same thing as “Pro-Abortion. Pro-choice means that you acknowledge that you don’t have the right to force your opinions on the people who will actually have to deal with the consequences. What your personal feelings are is irrelevant to what should or should not be banned by law. It’s perfectly possible to be pro-choice but against abortion. I am against wearing a safety pin through my nose, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think other people should be allowed to do so. If a group is anti-choice, then members of that organization are implicitly or explicitly endorsing outlawing abortion and preventing people from having them, but if an organization is pro-choice, that means its members are willing to give other people control of their own lives. (It’s really late, and I’m not sure I’m being clear here and I want to get on to the other points, but my claim here is the anti-choice position is exclusionary, but the pro-choice position is not.)
On the argument that being pro-choice would alienate potential allies, well accommodationism is a 2-way street. If some religious group wants to work with skeptics or atheists to keep religious doctrine or creationism or ID out of public schools (maybe because they realize that any official recognition of one sect’s opinions automatically excludes there own, and quite sensibly they would rather have no official religion than the exclusive recognition of a different one), or maybe because they recognize the reality of evolution, like the Catholic church and many other religions do, they can and should tolerate us to the extent we tolerate them.
Finally, as to whether this is a skeptical issue, there are two aspects. First are the detailed technical aspects, which we certainly can and should discuss in a skeptical forum. What exactly constitutes a human being? When does a cell or a blob of cells acquire whatever physical characteristics that make it a human (and when does it lose them?) What are the physical, psychological, sociological, economic, ethical and political consequences of legalizing, limiting or banning abortion in various ways? All these questions can be examined using evidence and logic and comparing societies and cultures where different rules prevail. So I think this means the whole question is within the purview of skepticism.
Finally, I think it is a basic matter of personal freedom, which is always a skeptical issue. Orwell said freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4. Restricting people’s freedom to think about reality is clearly inconsistent with skepticism and antithetical to free thought. Restricting people’s ability to act on the conclusions of that thought when it doesn’t harm other people renders the that freedom of thought moot. So the question comes down to whether or not outlawing abortion on the balance harms or benefits people, and I think the evidence shows quite clearly it harms them.
So my conclusion is that this is a skeptical issue, and that the skeptical movement should take a position (to the extent that it can take a position on anything), that is pro-choice.
P.S. tl;dr, I hope there aren’t too many typos.
You write: “Claus seems to be questioning Skepchick’s right to even discuss the issues”
Not at all.
Abstince only education is insidious and it hurts men as well as women and this needs to be understood. Men can get saddled with an unwanted child, or can contract diseases cause they don’t know how to properly put on a condom. Of course this is an issue that should be important to women, but it’s not just a women’s battle.
Now I am a woman and I’m skeptical, but I’m also spiritual… I have a Christian upbringing and that still very much impacts my spirtuality (though it is not the sum total of the subject).
Christians need to realize that levitical law, and the ravings of Paul are incompatible with Jesus’ teachings there’s just no way around that if you look at the bible critically.
Levitcal law is a construct that was designed for a specific culture at a specific time, and one that was for the most part male dominated at that… and that time has passed.
Also Christians ignore the many translation errors in their book.
Why do you ask am I bringing this up on a discussion geared towards the secular movement?
It’s because while keeping the church out of the state is an admirable goal, and certainly there are things that can be done to further it, politicians can not completey check their moral beliefs behind at the door when making decisions… they will run on a campaign based on their beliefs and people will vote for them based on their beliefs, and that’s inevitable in the current system. Unless Atheism becomes a requirement for office, or we turn rule over to advanced robots, we will never have a system devoid of church influence.
So atheists need to be able to point out to Christians how much of the bible is in conflict with Jesus’ teachings.
If we can get Christians to reject Paul’s doctrine of hatred, and whatever convient parts of the old testement they want to unironically cling too while eating their BLT sandwichs, then that’s a step in the right direction.
Remove Paul and Leviticus from the equation and suddenly the justifications for homophobia (even Sodom is not a homophobic justification if you consider the full text) is gone, Paul’s mysoginistic rantings are gone.
I think a two pronged attack is neccesary fighting to keep the church away from the state… while teaching the church to critically examine the rest of the bible against Jesus… Some will come around to athiesm… and some will realize that Jesus never said a damn thing about abortions or homosexuality and said a whole lot about love and understanding.
–Not quite an athiest but still an ally
Thank you for that perspective! We do have many religious allies in the fight to protect separation of church and state, and in fact the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a reverend: Reverend Barry Lynn. Keeping the government out of the church is just as beneficial to the religious as it is beneficial to us to keep the church out of the government.
So this is my first post here. I have always been pro-choice but my views have changed slightly over the last year. In the past I had cast off the decision completely to the woman to decide if she wants the baby. Now I feel very strongly that I should have certain rights in such matters. I have a right to know that she is pregnant. I have the right to know her wishes. I have the right to express my wishes. I feel very strongly that I do have rights in regards to that fetus.
While these rights do not extend to compelling her to keep the baby, I have the right to know that it exists, especially if she decides to keep it – if only because of the legal obligations I have to help financially support that child.
I believe this just as much as I believe that the woman’s decision is the final decision.
Actually, your rights to your sperm end when you leave it behind in someone else’s body. If you want to be informed and part of the decision, I would suggest entering into a relationship before entering into a vagina.
Also, you might consider condoms.
You may not know me, but I officially love you.
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