No Amnesty for the Unborn?

John Mallon
Reproduced with Permission

Amnesty International is considering changing its neutral policy on abortion to one that would declare abortion an international human right.

For many years the international agency Amnesty International has been a courageous and influential voice for human rights, especially for those unjustly imprisoned, tortured and executed in countries where the very notion of human rights is scoffed at. They have done tremendous good. But now they are tempted to adopt a position by which they would become the very thing they oppose in their crucial work. They would become their own enemy. They may not see it now but it would place them on a collision course with reality which they will be forced to confront at some future date as attitudes change.

The agency is considering changing its neutral position on abortion and declaring abortion to be a universal human right. The group's current policy on abortion states, "Amnesty International takes no position on whether or not women have a right to choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies; there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law."

Pro-abortion manoeuvres

The idea of abortion as a "human right" is nothing new. The international abortion lobby has been pushing for it for many years, attempting to go through the United Nations conference system and international treaty instruments, because of the difficulty of getting this agenda through democratic processes. It is sad to see Amnesty International being co-opted by these forces.

The Friday Fax, published by the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a UN watchdog agency, reported April 28 that Amnesty International hopes to decide by the end of 2006 whether to adopt a new position that would favor the "decriminalization of abortion," "access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion" and "legal, safe and accessible abortion in cases of rape, sexual assault, incest, and risk to a woman's life." In 2005, Amnesty International began a worldwide consultative process to poll its members on the organization's current position on abortion.

This position would automatically put them in on a collision course with the Catholic Church, who, in the cause of human rights is a strong ally.

High reputation

The Catholic News Agency reported May 5 on the reaction of Father Joaquin Alliende, the ecclesiastical assistant to the Catholic agency, Aid to the Church in Need Alliende said, "With great regret we have learned that Amnesty International has proposed advancing abortion 'rights' around the world as a new mission for their organization." The Chilean priest continued, "Amnesty International has earned a high reputation for its intensive efforts to gain the release of innocent prisoners of conscience. Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that is also often a 'voice of the voiceless,' highly appreciates this moral commitment of Amnesty International."

However, Alliende added, "Now by proposing a pro-abortion initiative Amnesty International is abandoning its own noble ethical principles, thereby shaking the very foundations on which it is built; for the simple reason that unborn life in a mother's womb is the very weakest of all threatened and persecuted human beings."

"Thus," he continued, "the day this initiative was launched will become a day of mourning for all those who are unconditionally committed to true humanism".

Amnesty International has produced a "Sexual and Reproductive Rights Consultation Kit," which includes a "Draft Policy Statement on Sexual and Reproductive Rights." This document demands that "Governments must refrain from denying or limiting equal access to sexual and reproductive health services." It adds, "[Governments] must act with due diligence to punish abuses of sexual and reproductive rights by private persons, organizations and other non-state actors."

Ideally, of course, Amnesty International would not be neutral on abortion but would view it as the severe violation of human rights that it is. In fact, Amnesty International has spoken out in their 1995 report on forced abortions in China, regarding a cruel and bizarre incident in which the Chinese government forced a woman, Ma Weihua, to abort. The woman had been sentenced to death on drug charges, so the government forced her to abort it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman. One would expect a group with Amnesty International's original stated mission to take the lesson of such diabolical ironies.

Regrettable decision

Now, in the political climate in which Amnesty International functions the neutral position is understandable, but it is all the more regrettable that they would take sides against the unborn under the rubric of "women's rights."

The problems this decision would create for Amnesty International were articulately spelled out by Valparaiso University law professor Richard Stith in a letter to Amnesty International:

"As a long-time supporter of Amnesty International, ... I write to urge caution in adopting the proposed positions favoring reproductive rights. The essential problem is that the world is increasingly divided over whether such positions would be steps toward or away from universal human rights. That is, state enforcement of abortion rights would not just be something that conservatives might object to—like support of gay rights, for example—but rather would undercut your credibility with many of your natural constituencies. Many would see you as coming out against certain fundamental human rights, namely the universal right to life as well as the right of conscience-based refusal to participate in violence, something that could not easily be said regarding gay rights or almost any other cause Amnesty International might wish to support."

Stith continues, "Even on the Left, such an endorsement is problematic. What I mean is this: Many people on the Left not only consider abortion rights an anti-communitarian expression of extreme individualism, a claiming of private ownership of the next generation, but also see rights-talk (in the context of the real world) as hostile to care and concern for the needs of women."

Stith cites the feminist theorist Catherine MacKinnon, as having "written of the way 'privacy' language thrusts women back to private oppression (where males will decide to abort their wanted children) and away from public equality. ... The individual freedom to abort is in reality a freedom for the powerful more easily to oppress the weak—especially in the third world. Only after women have achieved true equality could it be argued that abortion would be truly their own right rather than that of their male oppressors."

Finally, Stith raises the point of whether Amnesty International is willing to let this polarizing issue distract from their central mission. He says, "Any push for abortion by Amnesty International at this time could undercut your crucial credibility in the struggle to bring violence against women and children out into the open—as well as to maximize support for your core mission of support for political prisoners."

"Unless you think that your other aims are so well-secured that they no longer need much assistance, which I would respectfully consider absurd, Amnesty International would be well advised not to embark upon this new endeavor."

Written plea necessary

It is unclear at this writing when a final decision would be made, but Amnesty International has asked their membership to forward comments and proposals to them by May 20.

While reports differ on the timetable of the final decision, the United Kingdom pro-life organization, The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said the policy would be decided at Amnesty International's International Committee meeting in 2007.

The The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children report concluded saying, "By adopting a pro-abortion policy, Amnesty would be turning its back on human rights, the very thing it has campaigned to protect for over forty years."

A press release by the US pro-life group, Human Life International, has called for a letter writing campaign to Amnesty International: "We earnestly ask you to please write this organization and ask that it cease promoting abortion as an 'international right'."

Letters can be sent to Amnesty International at the following address:

Amnesty International
International Secretariat
1 Easton Street