I.U.D. (Informed Unbelieving Daughters): Why Young Women Might Be Leaving Religion

Many humanists are already aware of the growing percentage of the US population that identifies as nonreligious. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, about 20 percent of people identify with no religion, and that number increases to 33 percent when narrowed down to individuals of the millennial generation. Much of the research on the rising tide of “Nones” focuses on men who are leaving faith traditions behind, and conventional wisdom holds that women tend to be more religious than men. However, a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute examining spirituality and attitudes on climate change showed a significant percentage of women do not identify as spiritual. Forty-five percent of those women are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine, but even in the age group of sixty-five and older, nearly one-fifth of women did not report spirituality or religion as a significant part of their lives.

An article on Religion News Service attempts to explain these findings as related to generational divides, single motherhood, and larger numbers of women in the workplace. However, one factor that may also contribute to the growing number of secular women is the religious right’s continued opposition to women’s reproductive healthcare. According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 99 percent of sexually active women between the ages of fifteen and forty-four have used some method of contraception to prevent pregnancy, whether it be condoms, birth control pills, or emergency contraception such as Plan B. And now, a new report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention states that an increasing number of women are using long-acting, reversible contraception, including intrauterine devices (IUDs).

The IUD is a highly effective (99 percent) method for preventing pregnancy. The devices were shunned in the 1970s after defective IUDs caused infections and sterilization, however improved and perfectly safe IUDs are now available, and they’re an attractive option for women who have had adverse reactions to birth control pills. Ideally, they would be included in a range of contraceptive options for women seeking reproductive healthcare, and each individual woman, in consultation with her healthcare provider, would be able to decide which option is best for her.

Unfortunately, in its quest to control women’s sexuality, the religious right has vigorously opposed not only contraception in general, but IUDs in particular. The Green family, Hobby Lobby’s founders, objected to providing IUDs as a contraceptive option for their employees because they erroneously insisted that IUDs cause abortions, even though the devices work by preventing conception in the first place. (And even if IUDs did cause abortions, a woman should certainly have the right to terminate a pregnancy if she so chooses.) Despite the reality, in the infamous Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, the US Supreme Court ruled that because the Green family had a sincerely held religious belief that IUDs caused abortions, they and other owners of closely held, private corporations have the right to impose their religion on their employees. Supporters of so-called personhood amendments, which promote the religiously based idea that a fetus’s civil rights trump those of its mother, also regularly speak out against IUDs and perpetuate misinformation about them.

Countering this misinformation, however, is a host of blogs and online resources for women who want to understand the many types of birth control available to them. Websites like Scarleteen and RH Reality Check contain scientifically based information about different types of contraceptives as well as general information about other women’s issues such as abortion, sexually transmitted infections, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This information is presented accurately and objectively, without judging women for their choices or shaming them for expressing their sexuality. The tone of these websites stands in sharp contrast to statements made by conservative politicians pandering to fundamentalist Christians. Just last week, Idaho State Rep. Vito Barbieri asked if women could swallow cameras in order to have remote gynecological exams. He later said the question was purely rhetorical, but his lack of knowledge about female anatomy and women’s healthcare is far too common in lawmakers on the religious right.

While more and more women seek comprehensive reproductive care and control over their own bodies, religious conservatives attempt to further restrict their access to contraception. It’s no surprise, then, that many women, especially young women, might be increasingly disinclined to identify with religion. With the humanist movement’s basis in reason and scientific fact, the time is ripe to welcome these secular women into our community.

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