What Good Do Atheists Do? (November 2002)

A common retort from Christians in conversation with freethinkers about the merits of belief is: “Well, churches help people. What good do atheists do?”

Refer your next Christian conversationalist with that taunt to the Wisconsin-based Women’s Medical Fund, Inc., which was atheist-conceived, is atheist-governed, atheist-operated by volunteers and receives most of of its donations from freethinkers, whether atheist or agnostic. I am its volunteer administrator. Its board of directors are nonbelievers.

Started in Madison, Wis., as a tiny charity back in the 1970s to help a few especially needy women pay for abortions, the Women’s Medical Fund now has helped more than 12,000 Wisconsin women. It is believed to be the oldest continuously operating fund of its kind in the United States.

Only a handful of states allow public money to be used for abortions, and Wisconsin, with its heavy Catholic population, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

So the fund meets a great need, assisting homeless women, women and children who are victims of rape, women who are ill (many seriously so), women who already have eight or nine children, battered women in hopeless marriages, and women who are mentally ill. Most women helped are on public assistance of some kind; a great majority have children. These are Wisconsin’s neediest women, who have ranged in age from 12 to 48.

The fund is a “pure” charity, completely volunteer. There are no salaries or traditional overhead. Approximately 99.5% of donations are used for the intended purpose of helping needy women. Checks are written to physicians, clinics or hospitals, and, in accordance with Wisconsin law, there is an annual audit of the fund by a certified public accountant.

Contributions to the Women’s Medical Fund are tax-deductible. The fund has had its 501(c)(3) charity exemption since 1976. Last year it paid $174,547 on behalf of 778 women.

The Women’s Medical Fund wishes to extend a public thank you to Robert West, Kay Elwers, Nora Cusack, Liz Uhr, and Phyllis Rose, all volunteers and Foundation members.

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In the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s two surveys of members, done ten years apart, we found that an overwhelming number of our members do good works. They are volunteers in the schools and volunteers for charities of all descriptions. They are concerned about our country and the world, and they demonstrate that concern through their work for environmental groups, government watchdog groups, birth control groups, shelters for battered women, animal rights groups, death-with-dignity organizations, world peace. Atheists are concerned activists.

Freedom From Religion Foundation