Amnesty International affirmed its policy decision on Friday to become a pro-abortion organization and focus some of its efforts on creating universal access to abortion under select circumstances. The radical change has caused Bishop Michael Evans of the Diocese of East Anglia, England to withdraw his 31-year membership from the organization.
The decision marks a significant shift for the 46-year-old organization that was founded by a Catholic layman, Peter Benenson, and has been neutral on the issue of abortion.
The policy was affirmed at Amnesty’s international council meeting in Mexico City, from Aug. 11 to 17. There were 400 delegates from 75 countries in attendance.
Amnesty’s executive committee took the initial policy decision in April to abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s health is jeopardized, but did not make a public announcement about it. It was not until this past week’s meeting in Mexico City that Amnesty delegates gave it overwhelming support.
A press release, issued by Amnesty on Friday, states: “Amnesty International committed itself to strengthening the organization’s work on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and other factors contributing to women's recourse to abortion, and affirmed the organization’s policy on selected aspects of abortion (to support the decriminalization of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion, and to defend women's access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger), emphasizing that women and men must exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination and violence.”
As a result, Catholic Church leaders are calling on Catholics to withdraw their support for Amnesty International.
In an Aug. 18 statement, Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia said he is withdrawing his 31-year-membership and support for the organization.
“In time, Amnesty may seek to develop this policy further, but even this current limited decision makes it very difficult for Catholics to remain members of Amnesty or to give it any financial support,” the bishop stated.
The bishop recognized the “enormously important role” Amnesty has played in the world since its foundation.
“This regretable decision will almost certainly divide Amnesty’s membership and thereby undermine its vital work,” he added. “Among all human rights, the right to life is fundamental. Commitment to work to ‘Protect the Human’ can only be deeply compromised by any support for access to abortion. “
While the Catholic Church shares Amnesty’s strong commitment to oppose violence against women, he continued, it cannot support the violence done by abortion to “the most vulnerable and defenceless form of human life in a woman’s womb.”
Bishop Evans noted that the preamble to the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “the child ... needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
“This must surely be part of the body of international human rights law to which Amnesty International is committed,” the bishop stated.
“There is no human right to access to abortion, and Amnesty should not involve itself even in such extreme cases,” the bishop warned. He said the organization’s support for abortion compromises its mandate to ‘protect the human’.
Bishop Evans emphasized that while he can no longer be a member of Amnesty International, he remains deeply committed to its original mandate of working for freedom for prisoners of conscience, an end to torture and the death penalty, and fair trials for all.
The English bishop is not the only prelate to speak against Amnesty’s new policy. In early-June, Cardinal Renato Martino told Reuters that Amnesty would face ‘inevitable consequences’ for its decision.
"No more Catholic financing of Amnesty International after the organization’s pro-abortion about-face," he was quoted as saying.
Even support for selective abortion defines “the innocent child within the womb as an enemy, a 'thing' that must be destroyed," Cardinal Martino reportedly said.
The American Catholic press later reported Cardinal Martino saying the Amnesty’s new stance on abortion disqualifies it as a defender of human rights