Stay Neutral on Abortion, Congressmen Tell Amnesty Int'l

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Seventy-four U.S. congressmen on Monday urged Amnesty International to remain neutral on the issue of abortion at its August 2007 meeting, where the human rights group will consider taking a stance in favor of access to abortion.

The group's more than two million members will decide whether the group will reverse its neutral position on abortion by developing policies on the issue that would support its use in cases of rape, incest or saving a woman's life. It could also express opposition to criminal penalties for women who seek abortions and the doctors who provide them.

The congressmen, led by New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, believe that adopting such a position would damage the group's credibility as a human rights organization.

"To in any way condone or support abortion, which many of your supporters believe is actually a human rights abuse, would significantly undermine Amnesty's reputation and effectiveness," they said in a letter to Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"We believe that the killing of an unborn child by abortion can never be construed to be a human right," the letter states. "Every child -- born or unborn -- deserves protection and to have his or her human rights secured and protected."

At a news conference releasing the letter Monday at the U.S. Capitol, Smith called Amnesty International "a group that we cherish, deeply respect," calling the organization a "partner" in his own efforts to promote human rights across the world.

Smith later told Cybercast News Service that if the group adopts a pro-abortion position, "it will call into question everything they say" and make him and others rethink their support of the organization.

Smith called the "right to life" the "most elemental human right of all" and urged Amnesty International to "retain your neutrality, or better yet, join us in defending the most discriminated class of human beings on earth -- unborn babies."

In a release issued at the same news conference, Amnesty International pledged to continue debating the issue until it comes to a vote at its international council meeting in Mexico next year.

"Amnesty International's policy debate is a response to the compelling circumstances of women on whose behalf we work," the statement said, "and it is a continuation of other policy decisions on reproductive rights. Specifically, the organization has long opposed forced contraception, forced sterilization and forced abortion."

The group said it is considering adopting a position on abortion because "tens of thousands of women die annually from unsafe abortions, and many more suffer severe consequences that erode their health and quality of life."

"As a human rights organization," the statement noted, "AI cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering and injustice."

While the group seemed determined to adopt a position in favor of considering abortion a human right, it commended Smith for being "a steadfast partner with Amnesty International on a range of vital human rights issues" and said it "welcome[s] the opportunity to continue our dialogue with him and to work with all congressional supporters on pressing human rights issues."

Smith said he wasn't aware of similar efforts to persuade AI to remain neutral from the U.S. Senate or foreign governing bodies, but he encouraged his colleagues and American citizens to join his campaign.

"I would never counsel withholding funding unless a decision is made," Smith said when asked how AI's pro-life supporters should respond. While he did not urge pro-lifers to stop donating to the human rights group, he encouraged them to tell AI leadership how they feel.

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