August 2006

It doesn’t take a great deal of political nouse or religious savvy to predict that many religious organisations that believe the right to life is the human right will oppose the current moves within AI, so the the statement issued this week by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales, although welcome, is unsurprising. What is far more interesting is AI’s response to the media reports of this statement.

Now AIUK has not been particularly forthcoming with its views in public; hiding behind the excuse that there is an ongoing consultation among members (the details of which haven’t been revealed to the general membership yet), they have apparently refused to field spokesmen on the media and AI UK’s comments to the press have been bland and uninformative. So any comments made by AI are read with interest, particularly the comments made to the Universe newspaper.

In response to the statement from the Bishops’ Conference, a spokesman for AI said the human rights landscape had changed dramatically since it was founded:

“Back then it was more to do with civil and political rights but now there are other issues concerning economic, cultural and social rights,” [the spokesman] said.

“Our biggest campaign at the moment is about women’s rights and in particular stopping violence towards women.

“It would be difficult for us to have a campaign about women which did not also include sexual and reproductive rights as well.”

This is worrying because it could quite legitimately be inferred that this spokesman, whom we assume speaks for the organisation, has taken the stance that abortion plays some part in economic, cultural or social rights. Where is the logical argument to support this, let alone the moral argument?

We sincerely hope this is not the view currently held by AI or else the consultation process would be a sham. Sadly, AIUK’s track record is very poor on this: it had to apologise for not allowing people who opposed abortion to speak at a members’ meeting when all the speakers AI had lined up were in favour of changing the position on abortion.

Coming back to the spokesman’s comments: no-one is suggesting that there should not be a campaign to stop violence against women; that campaign is to be applauded. No-one is suggesting that there should not be a campaign that included sexual and reproductive rights: rape is wrong: period.

What many people point out is the inconsistency that AI faces if it adopts a position that would advocate abortion and still pretend to be a human rights organisation. For example:

    • Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to life, not the right to have an abortion
    • An abortion is violence towards both male and female unborn babies
    • An abortion completely removes the choices of an aborted child

We will continue to work on the premise that the consultation amongst members will be real and urge members to contact their local AI branch by letter and email to protest about any change to the current AI position. AIUK members and members of the public can send their comments to National Director Kate Allen, either by post to Amnesty International UK, The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA, or by email to

Outside the UK contact your nearest AI branch – check here to find out


Catholic bishops in England and Wales have issued a statement expressing its concern about any plans to change AI’s stance and called for the organisation to retain a neutral position on abortion. The Bishop of East Anglia Michael Evans, a long time supporter of AI, has been leading the calls and spoken out in the media recently (see previous post). Bishop Evans (pictured) has warned AI that he belived that many Catholic supporters of the organisation could not remain members if AI was to change its stance.

In the statement the bishops say “The Catholic Church shares Amnesty’s concern for the most vulnerable, but does not believe that removing the rights of the unborn child is consistent with Amnesty’s core values. “

The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales says Amnesty International risks compromising its values if it declares that abortion is a “human right”. The Bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans, is a member of Amnesty International. In an interview with Vatican Radio the Bishop said the proposal would move the organisation further from its roots, and divide its membership. You can hear the clip here for a limited period of time (requires Real Audio player).

When it was suggested that AI change its long-held stance of taking a neutral position on the issue of abortion, those who proposed the move assumed it would be the “usual suspects” that would oppose it – the Catholic Church, other Christian churches, and pro-life groups to name a few – and that the organisation could ride through any storms that these groups caused.

There are two fundamental flaws with this way of thinking:

Firstly, AI relies heavily on those very groups to operate – many parishes have their own AI groups who support both the organisation’s campaigns and bank balances. Riding rough-shod over these members is not something to be advised.

Secondly, as we’ve commented in this blog before, it is absolutely not just an issue for Catholics, other Christian churches, or any other religious community. Many people of no faith believe that abortion is fundamentally wrong and that the right to life is the fundamental human right. today reports that some US Liberal groups are also campaigning against the move – proof that this issue is much wider than some people give it credit for.