Amnesty Affirms New Abortion Stance; Catholics Urged to Cut Ties

( [email protected] ) Aug 20, 2007 12:30 PM EDT

Amnesty International has reaffirmed its decision to support selected cases of abortion including those involving sexual violence, rape, incest or where the health or human rights of women are “in danger,” drawing the ire of the Catholic Church.

At end of the human rights group’s 28th International Council Meeting in Mexico City last week, 400 delegates from 75 countries committed the organization to its April decision to “work for universal respect for sexual and reproductive rights” for both men and women.

Amnesty stated on its website that it “will support the decriminalization of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and defend women’s access to abortion.”

The Catholic Church, which equates abortion with murder whatever the circumstances, has urged its millions of members worldwide to cut all support to the human rights group originally founded by a Catholic layman to provide support and defense for political prisoners.

“The Catholic Church has no desire for women who have been through the trauma of abortion to be punished; they need compassion and healing,” stressed the Rt. Rev Michael Evans, the Catholic Bishop of England’s East Anglia. “Women who suffer complications after an abortion should obviously receive quality care.

“But our proper indignation regarding pervasive violence against women should not cloud our judgment about our duty to protect the most vulnerable and defenseless form of human life,” Evans added.

The bishop pointed to the 1989 U.N. International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which reaffirms the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child in saying that a child needs “special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”.

“This must surely be part of the body of international human rights law to which Amnesty International is committed,” said Evans.

Amnesty’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, said that the delegates at the international council meeting in Mexico would not approve or disapprove of the group’s decision to support abortion in some cases because they had already adopted it after two and a half years of internal debate.

Amnesty believes the policy is consistent with its ongoing campaign to end violence against women, particularly in cases where the rape of women is used as a weapon in war or conflict.

While Evans said the Catholic Church shares Amnesty’s “strong commitment to oppose violence against women (for example, rape, sexual assault and incest),” he added, however, that “such appalling violence must not be answered by violence against the most vulnerable and defenseless form of human life in a woman’s womb.”

“Catholics would want to show practical compassion for such women, and ensure for them all the medical and spiritual care and support they need. But there is no human right to access to abortion, and Amnesty should not involve itself even in such extreme cases.”

Earlier in the month, Cardinal Renato Marino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said: "If, in fact, Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support."

In June, Martino told Reuters that “selective-abortion” was defining the innocent child as an enemy that must be destroyed and as such the organization would face “inevitable consequence” for its decision

"To selectively justify abortion, even in the cases of rape, is to define the innocent child within the womb as an enemy, a 'thing' that must be destroyed," the cardinal said.

In addition to his comment to Reuters, Martino also told an American Catholic newspaper that the group’s new stance on abortion “disqualified Amnesty International as a defender of human rights.”

The Amnesty International Council meeting convenes every two years to plan, review and decide the organization's human rights work.

Contributor Maria Mackay in London added to this article.