Amnesty International‘s policy on abortion has become the subject of renewed controversy on the eve of the organisation’s international council meeting.
The debate over whether rape and incest victims should be entitled to abortions has led to calls from senior members of the Catholic church in Britain and Rome for a withdrawal of support from the organisation.
Amnesty’s policy, adopted in April after more than two years of discussion, is opposition to forced abortion, support for its decriminalisation and defence of women’s access to terminations “within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger”. The issue arose, Amnesty says, over the rape of women in war zones such as Darfur.
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Last month Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said Vatican funding for Amnesty would cease because of the stance on abortion: “If, in fact, Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organisations must withdraw their support because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission.”
The head of the US Conference for Catholic Bishops has called on the Amnesty council to reverse the policy at its annual meeting in Mexico City tomorrow.
Bishop William Skylstad said support for abortion, even in limited circumstances, “undermines Amnesty’s longstanding moral credibility”.
Amnesty said it has never received any funding from the Vatican or any state. Until delegates have gathered for the council meeting, it will not be known whether abortion is on the agenda, a spokeswoman said.
“Having a policy doesn’t mean that we are in favour of abortion as a right,” said the organisation’s general secretary, Irene Khan. She added that Amnesty had a policy to “support women to be able to make the decision to terminate pregnancy without fear of violence in these limited cases of sexual violence or where the life of the mother or her health is very seriously threatened”.
The Catholic church has also raised the issue in Britain. “Catholics and others on the council opposed to this change of policy must take this last opportunity to take action,” said the Right Rev Michael Evans, bishop of East Anglia, a longstanding member of Amnesty. “Mexico will be the final crunch moment. Then Catholics will have to make their decision about continued support.
“The world needs Amnesty International. It has touched the lives of countless numbers of people across the world who have been wrongly imprisoned for their beliefs or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Long may it do so – hopefully with the active support of Catholics worldwide but this will be seriously threatened should Amnesty adopt a policy supporting the right to abortion.”
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