Australia's bishops are discussing Amnesty International’s new policy to advocate for the decriminalization of abortion worldwide, with the intention of presenting a unified response.
Many Christians, especially Catholics, are expected to resign from the human rights organization and perhaps establish an alternative human rights organization because of the new policy. Some expect the Church in Australia to cut its ties with Amnesty altogether.
The group has 2.2 million members and supporters worldwide, many of them are church-based, including about 72,000 in Australia. Amnesty estimates that 500 Catholic schools in Australia have member groups, as do other Christian schools.
Amnesty's international executive board adopted the policy last month as part of its campaign to curb violence against women. Previously Amnesty was neutral on abortion.
Amnesty’s Widney Brown said the policy calls for legal access to abortions for pregnancies resulting from sexual violence, or that risk the mother's life or health.
Fr. Chris Middleton, head of St Aloysius' College in Sydney, told The Age newspaper that Amnesty's Australian membership would be deeply hit by this policy decision.
He predicted that Amnesty’s Third World membership would be reduced to a partisan and ideologically exclusive group.
This new policy would also weaken the campaign against capital punishment in the United States by driving a wedge between its two most vocal critics, Amnesty and the Catholic Church, he said.
Amnesty has been criticized for its secrecy regarding this policy change. It had initially announced that it would have an international debate on this policy in Mexico City later this year, but its leadership council went ahead with the policy decision instead.
Brown told The Age that Amnesty had not publicized the policy, but said there was a full consultation process and the organization was not trying to hide the change.
Amnesty’s spokesperson framed the current backlash as similar to its decision to oppose the death penalty in the 1960s and to advocate for same-sex relationships in the 1980s and 1990s.