As Amnesty International convened a high-level meeting in Mexico City this past Saturday, its new policy on abortion has taken center stage again.
Some of the organization's supporters have said that they hope the gathering will result in the overturning of a recent controversial decision by the human rights group to adopt a pro-abortion policy.
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, reports CNS News. 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.
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 response to the policy change, 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."
Amnesty International maintains that its new policy, which was adopted and not made public for some time, is one that is still neutral on the issue of abortion as a universal right.
However, Catholic League president Bill Donohue 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.