Amnesty International has remained defiant about its new pro-abortion stance despite receiving international criticism for their decision to abandon their long standing neutrality regarding abortion and embrace it fully as a human right.
Amnesty was founded in 1961 by a Catholic convert, the late Peter Benenson, and has enjoyed the support of Catholic organizations and individuals in its campaigns against torture and capital punishment. It has also received praise in the past for staying clear of the abortion issue, which the organization has viewed as "outside its mandate" for the last 50 years.
However, after a two-year consultation process that many of the 2.2 million Amnesty member have described as "biased," flawed" and "prejudiced in favor of abortion," AI decided to turn abortion into a "human right."
From now on, AI will push for the legalization of abortion in the 97 countries which outlaw abortion.
The Amnesty decision, that will be officially launched in August 11 in Mexico City, has been described as a betrayal of its mission" by Cardinal Renato Martino. In a June 14th interview with the National Catholic Register, he said that when Benenson founded the movement the mission was clear: "to witness to the inalienable rights of all human beings," and that included the unborn.
"Desensitizing the culture to the evil of abortion is part and parcel of the pro-abortion lobby. It is hard to believe that Amnesty has acquiesced to the pressures of this lobby." If Amnesty persists, Martino said "individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support."
Earlier this month, Bishop William Skylstad, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that AI's new policy "undermines Amnesty's long-standing moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members ... and jeopardizes Amnesty's support by people in many nations, cultures and religions."
In Canada, Neil McCarthy, spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, said that no directive has come down calling for a withdrawal of support, but he added that Amnesty "can't be surprised" at the Church's reaction to the policy change.
"Life is sacred, and though there certainly are tragic circumstances in the world, abortion is abortion – you can't be selective in the circumstances. Donors will have to make the decision," McCarthy said.
Despite the repeated pleas from Catholics, Amnesty's spokespeople around the world have reacted with an attitude of open defiance.
In fact, Amnesty's deputy secretary-general, Kate Gilmore, has angrily accused the Catholic Church of misstating the facts.
"We have the dirt under the nail and the blood and pain of the people that we are responding to. The Catholic Church, through a misrepresented account of our position on selective aspects of abortion, is placing in peril work on human rights."
Gilmore said Amnesty defends the right of the Church to address moral beliefs, but "our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God. It means that sometimes the secular framework of human rights that Amnesty upholds will converge neatly with the standpoint of certain faith-based communities; sometimes it will not."
In Canada, despite Amnesty's local chapter losing about 200 supporters, Cheryl Hotchkiss, an AI campaigner in Ottawa, dismissed the fact and said that "we've actually received donations from about 25 Catholics because we are doing this."
Suzi Clark at the executive committee office in London, predict that AI "may gain more than it loses." "From our feedback, we understand there are a number of countries where more people have joined because of our support for sexual and reproductive rights, including selected aspects of abortion, than have left in opposition."
In the US, AI's spokeswoman Suzanne Trimel said their chapter has more than 400,000 members and that "only a handful - probably less than 200 - had quit" in protest over the policy.
Gilmore commented on Amnesty activists in other countries with tough abortion restrictions, such as Poland and certain Latin American countries, saying that these people "embraced the policy wholeheartedly."
She has even announced that Amnesty will now "take action in regard to Nigeria, where women seeking abortions can face severe punishment, and in Latin American countries where even women with life-threatening medical problems can be denied abortions." "We're here to do what's right, whether it's unpopular or otherwise," she said.