Pro-lifers Galvanized by 'Right to Abortion' Move

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - A major human rights organization's decision to consider dropping its neutral stance on abortion -- and to promote a "right" to abortion instead -- is making waves around the world.

Campaigners are urging pro-lifers who support the organization to make their views known.

Amnesty International's existing policy on "sexual and reproductive rights" is that it "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."

At an international council meeting in Mexico next year, Amnesty International will decide whether to abandon neutrality, declare abortion an international human right, and consequently start advocating for it.

Between now and then, national branches are consulting with members and discussing the proposal. Britain and New Zealand have both already decided to support it.

In Britain, a recent annual meeting of Amnesty International passed a motion supporting the decriminalization of abortion. "The full realization of human rights should be understood to mean that a woman's right to physical and mental integrity includes a right to (a) information on the risks of abortion (b) legal safe and accessible abortion should she choose to have an abortion," it said.

AI members at that same meeting also voted down two alternative motions -- one saying that the branch "should take no position on the issue of abortion," and the other saying "the AGM [annual general meeting] decides to maintain its current neutral policy on abortion ... in order to continue supporting the fundamental principal of the right to life of every human person."

The British and Irish pro-life group Precious Life accused the branch of hypocrisy, saying it had "turned its back on human rights, the very thing they have campaigned to protect for over forty years."

"Abortion can never be described as a 'right,' " the group said in a statement. "Abortion is a needless act of violence that kills babies and hurts women."

Precious Life is urging AI members to leave unless the group starts campaigning to protect the right to life of unborn children.

Another U.K. campaign group, United for Life, said it had written several letters to AI leading up to the AGM.

Among other points, United for Life's Chris Mason noted that AI was opposed to capital punishment. Yet, he said, in an abortion the unborn are also sentenced to "the death penalty simply because they exist or because they are disabled."

In New Zealand, Right to Life spokesman Ken Orr responded to his country's branch decision by saying it would be a tragedy if Amnesty at an international level adopted abortion as a "human right."

He noted that the group claimed to support the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states "the child ... needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."

In New York, Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute argued this week that AI promoting abortion as an international human right "would be a disaster for the unborn."

"This kind of change will put the lives of unborn children into the hands of one of the most powerful groups in the world," he said. "They can throw the weight of the international legal community against the unborn.

"They will bring suits in the national courts and international courts. They will bring small countries before the United Nations and begin shaming campaigns in the New York Times, the London Times and elsewhere."

Christians in Canada, where the AI branch will hold its AGM next weekend, are also unhappy about the move.

Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary told the Canadian prolife site that the proposal for AI to start advocating for abortion was "an ill-conceived and gross betrayal of their mission to campaign for human rights."

Henry said he personally planned to end financial contributions to AI.

The site also quoted an Evangelical Fellowship of Canada representative as saying the move could have an impact on evangelicals' support for AI.

In India, Archbishop Oswald Gracias of the Conference of Catholic Bishops said the "much respected" AI had long been "known for protecting human rights of all, more particularly of weaker sections of the society."

If it made the proposed change, he said, "it would mean that Amnesty International is bidding good-bye to human rights."

See also:
Abortion is Not a Right, US Tells UN (Mar. 01, 2005)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow