'Crunch' Time on Abortion as Top Amnesty Inter'l Body Meets

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Amnesty International is holding a high-level meeting in Mexico City, and some of its supporters hope the gathering may overturn a recent controversial decision by the human rights group to drop its neutral stance on abortion.

The Vatican and Catholic bishops in several countries have warned that if Amnesty International sticks with the change, Catholics will be urged to withdraw support for the organization.

AI on Saturday opened the annual meeting of its 400-strong international council, the organization's "supreme governing body." The meeting is closed to the press and public, and the agenda has not been made public. Queries sent to the organizers' spokesman about the program and the abortion issue drew no response.

Two weeks ago, AI Secretary-General Irene Khan was quoted as saying that although the abortion issue may be discussed in Mexico City, the policy decision had already been taken.

Last April, following a lengthy consultation involving members and branches around the world, AI's nine-person international executive council decided that the organization would support abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman's life.

It would also oppose imprisonment and other criminal penalties for abortion against women or those providing the abortions.

The organization did not make the decision public immediately, but when it emerged it sparked a strong reaction.

The Vatican's Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that if the group persisted with the change, "individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission."

In a statement in June, AI declared that the shift does not "promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion."

Catholic League president Bill Donohue on Friday described AI's statement as dishonest.

"While it is true that Amnesty has thus far withheld support for abortion as a universal right, the very fact that it has -- for the first time -- engaged this issue (on the pro-abortion side) means that it has broken its silence," he said in a statement.

Among Catholic bishops who have been more outspoken on the subject is Bishop Michael Evans of the East Anglia diocese in England, who describes himself as having been a "strong and active" supporter of AI for three decades.

In a posting on his website, Evans expressed hope that the meeting in Mexico would overturn the decision.

"Catholics and others on the Council opposed to this change of policy must take this last opportunity to take action," he said. "Mexico will be the final crunch moment. Then Catholics will have to make their decision about continued support."

Evans praised AI, saying "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," he added. "But this will be seriously threatened should Amnesty adopt a policy supporting the right to abortion. Those involved in decision-making at international level need to ponder this very carefully indeed."

See Earlier Stories:
Stay Neutral on Abortion, Congressmen Tell Amnesty Int'l (Nov. 21, 2006)
Pro-lifers Galvanized by 'Right to Abortion' Move (May 18, 2006)

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