Gale Walldorff holds a historic sign of a woman saying “Don’t tell me what to do,” during the “Walk in My Shoes, Hear Our Voice” Protest Monday, March 12, 2012 at the state Capitol in Atlanta. The rally Monday comes after the Senate last week passed measures banning abortion coverage under state employees’ health care plans and exempting religious health care providers from having to cover birth control.
The first presidential election in which I voted was 1976, with Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford running for office. The election arrived on the heels of a tumultuous time in America: Nixon had resigned in disgrace and there was a dark mistrust of politics. Carter came in as the Washington outsider and carried the South (unusual for post civil-rights Democrats) because of his evangelical roots. As it turned out, Jimmy Carter was a big disappointment to the evangelical Christians – he believed he had the duty of upholding the Constitution and the wall of church-state separation. Like Kennedy, he believed his religion was private and not the basis for presidential decisions.
Only 12 years before those elections, the Civil Rights Act had been passed, and the year before the election, the twenty-year conflict in Vietnam finally came to a close. For some, the changes were frightening, but for others there seemed to be a renewed sense of hope: political change, changes in the long-standing social structure, and the idea that we would never again get ourselves into a long-drawn out conflict with little chance of resolution.
For me, as a young woman just starting her adult life, the women’s liberation movement and the inclusion of ‘sex’ in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act gave me something very powerful. I did not have to follow the paths of my mother, grandmothers, or their mothers before them. I could have a career. I didn’t have to find a husband to make me a complete person, and I could decide when or whether to have children.
Now, here I am, 36 years older, and I am watching in horror as those opportunities are being threatened by theocratic Christians.
I can’t help but think of my niece. She is far too young to understand the repercussions that could come if the radicals are able to successfully eradicate the right of women to direct their own reproduction. She is too young to understand the full implications of this new ‘war on the womb’ on her future. Yet, it will be she, not me, who will pay the ultimate price of religious enslavement to the biological heritage of being female.
She doesn’t understand.
But I do.
That’s why I need to be at the Reason Rally on the Mall this March 24.
The “war on the womb” is not just about the bizarre notion that a blastocyst should be considered a human being, thus banning all forms of viable contraceptives. No. It is much more insidious than that. It is the radical Christian version of the burka–designed to keep women in their place, subservient to men.
If women can’t determine their own reproduction, women will lose in the workplace, in education and in the right to live their lives as they choose. They will lose all they have gained over the past decades in terms of equality and opportunity. This holds true whether a woman is single, married, or divorced. Couples will no longer have the right to plan their own lives–to plan, for example, the number of children they want and when they want them. Some politicians and activists believe it is their ‘God-given-right’ to interfere in the most private of decisions of both women and men. They want to own the family and police the bedroom
I have to say, I am really angry. I am beyond the age of having children, so it has little to do with my personal life-style or life-choices any longer. But I know from experience how important those choices were to me as I entered adulthood and the work force. I made personal decisions, and had the means to follow my dreams and ambitions. Such choices that were never afforded to my mother or grandmother. I want my niece, and others like her, to be able to make her own decisions about her life and her body. I want her to dream and work and struggle for whatever she wants to achieve. I don’t want her dreams to die at the hand of those who would take this broad future away from her.
Please join me in rallying for taking back our rights as individuals from those who seek to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us. Stop the new radicals from enforcing their fanatical views and ignorance by way of the government. Don’t let them cloak our daughters in invisible burkas.
R. Elisabeth Cornwell is executive director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, United States.
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