3 September 2007

More fallout from Amnesty International’s new abortion stance

Amnesty International's support for legal abortion has caused splits among some of its Catholic supporters.

The spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has resigned from Amnesty International in protest at the organisation’s new backing for abortion, The Times (London) reported on 31 August.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, is the second UK bishop to leave the group because of its vote to support the decriminalisation of abortion in developing countries. He said that he was resigning as ‘a matter of conscience and with great sadness’.

The Bishop of East Anglia, the Right Rev Michael Evans, also stood down in August after 31 years in the organisation. His decision to leave the organisation came two months after the Vatican urged Catholics to reconsider their support for the group. The Church has urged Catholic organisations to withdraw their support for Amnesty over the policy.

Amnesty’s International Executive Committee adopted its new position on abortion in April 2007. The group formally accepted the new policy at its annual meeting in Mexico City last week, where Amnesty International’s international committee voted to support the decriminalisation of abortion and women’s access to legal and safe abortion facilities. The decision is automatically binding for Amnesty’s members in each member country, including those where abortion is illegal.

Traditionally, Amnesty International has avoided entering the abortion debate. Many of Amnesty’s strongest backers have been leading Catholics and there are fears that many others will now be re-examining their support.

Anti-abortion rock stars Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne are among the contributors to an Amnesty International CD released recently to raise money for survivors of atrocities in Darfur. Catholic bishops in the USA have also warned that Amnesty risks losing the support of thousands of church members as a result of the change.

Amnesty is backing abortion only in specific circumstances, such as when a woman’s health or life is in danger, or when she has been a victim of rape or violence in conflicts such as Darfur.

Cardinal O’Brien, who joined Amnesty as a student more than 40 years ago, said that throughout his ministry he had been committed to defending life in all circumstances. He had now had to examine his own conscience, after realising that Amnesty International was approving proposals in support of abortion, he said. He had also taken note of statements by other Catholic leaders, such as Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, who said Amnesty had ‘betrayed its mission’ by abandoning its traditional neutral policy on abortion.

Amnesty International has previously criticised the Vatican for its stance against abortion and in 2005 described the refusal by America to pay for abortions overseas as ‘an attempt to stifle the evolution of the human rights framework’. As the largest and most influential human rights group, Amnesty is now likely to put its legal expertise and lobbying power into helping to shape international treaties and agreements that favour legal abortion, reports The Times.

Kate Gilmore, the London-based executive deputy secretary-general of Amnesty International, said that the group simply supported ‘women’s human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations’.

‘Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community,’ she added.

Bishop leaves Amnesty after 31 years over its stance on ‘abortion violence’ The Times, 21 August 2007

Second Catholic bishop leaves Amnesty over its backing for abortion Times Online, 28 August 2007

Amnesty’s abortion stance splits grassroots support, The Independent, 1 September 2007