Sexual and reproductive rights


CATHOLIC SCHOOLS in Northern Ireland are breaking their ties with Amnesty International following the organization’s decision to advocate abortion as a human right.

Next month the Irish bishops will meet to discuss whether or not any of the Church’s schools should maintain links with AI, but moves by some schools in Belfast would indicate that it is a foregone conclusion that the policy throughout the country will be to drop AI in favour of other human rights groups. The auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor, Donal McKeown said that his diocese had already taken the view that it would be inappropriate for Catholic schools to continue supporting Amnesty.

“Amnesty’s espousal in recent months of campaigning for abortion access in limited circumstances will leave many people in a difficult situation, ” he said. “All we are saying here is that it seemed inappropriate in those circumstances for Catholic schools to be promoting the organisation.”

The deepening rift between many current members and AI over its pro-abortion stance will have longer-lasting implications for the organization: since its formation by the Catholic Peter Benenson in 1961, it has become common for Catholic schools to establish an AI group of their own, or to at least support the organization’s campaigns and many former pupils have gone on to support the organization after they left school. With its decision to divide its membership base, AI is likely to lose the prospect of longer term supporters.

In Canada, the Catholic Bishops Conference is also expected to make a strong statement condmening Amnesty’s aborion move when it meets in October. Last week St Basil’s Secondary School in Ontario, Canada announced that it would no longer have ties with its local AI group.

In Australia the Bishops have already called for AI to reverse its policy and in August St Aloysius College in Sydney, Australia announced that it would disband its Amnesty International group and instead establish a Benenson Society at the school to campaign for human rights.

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ITALY’S Conference of Catholic Bishops has called Amnesty International’s decision to campaign for abortion as a human right “astounding.”

Criticizing the organization’s recent decision to promote abortion, the President of the conference Monsignor Angelo Bagnasco said: “These are departures that warn us further of the dangerous erosion afflicting human conscience.”

With the customary response to the mounting criticism leveled at the organization, an Amnesty International spokesman said that AI was not trying to argue that abortion is a human right, but as has been discussed in previous posts, this argument is based on semantics. The organization has stated that it believes abortion to be a woman’s right and that as a “human rights” (unfortunately, we must now use quotation marks when appending this phrase to AI) organization, it should champion that right. Many AI supporters of the new policy are happy enough to accept that AI is now advocating abortion as a human right, as are the opponents of the new policy; however it is AI’s press officers and leaders that have a problem with the term, believing it will generate bad publicity among supporters and potential members. The organization has yet to reveal the details of their two-year consultation process.

Last week the Australia’s Bishops condemned Amnesty’s move; the US and Canadian bishops have also criticized the organization and several prominent members of the British Catholic clergy resigned their membership of the organization, urging other Catholic members to reconsider whether or not they can remain members of AI while it has a pro-abortion stance.

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THE CATHOLIC Church in Australia has become the latest group to call for Amnesty International to reverse its policy on abortion.

In a statement one of Australia’s most senior Catholic clerics Archbishop Philip Wilson said that AI’s pro-abortion stance was “deeply regrettable” and said that AI had “moved to a concept of human rights founded not upon the good of the human person, but simply upon the autonomy of the individual.”

“Catholic people have had a long association with Amnesty International, going right back to its inception and the two bodies have been closely aligned in their commitment to social justice,” he said.

“However, Amnesty International has now adopted a position, under the misleading term of ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ which is at odds with the Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person and sexuality. (more…)

EVEN AL JAZEERA has covered Amnesty International’s new decision to support abortion. The clip here shows an interview between AI’s Widney Brown and Helen Alvare of the Catholic University of America.

Widney Brown has been one of the people zealously pushing the policy onto the organisation with a dogmatic belief that abortion is a human right. In fact in her fervour, Ms Brown apparently has not bothered to find out about what Catholic teaching is in relation to the matter, preferring instead to use crude (and completely erroneous) stereotypes of what she believes to be Catholic teaching. This is another demonstration that the organisation has been forced into this by a leadership not fully comprehending what it was doing but just clinging on to the belief that it was right. To be fair, in the middle of the interview poor Ms Brown lets it slip that it wasn’t just Catholic beliefs she didn’t fully grasp, apparently she didn’t quite realise what Amnesty US has done in relation to its interpretation of women’s health and its stance on supporting the availability of partial birth abortions.

Now other AI spokespeople have been a little circumspect about the numbers leaving AI – see, for example, Phillippe Hensmans’s view who almost complained it wasn’t fair that the Catholic Church was asking its members to think twice before supporting AI. Not so Ms Brown, who says that there has not been an exodus of people leaving the organisation as was predicted when the policy was announced in April (actually other reports contradict her, and she hasn’t produced her statistics)….but, hold your horses Widney: surely, the policy wasn’t announced in April – well, at least that’s what Amnesty International would have us believe. In fact Amnesty went out of its way to try to cover up the policy with confidential internal documents and attempts to mislead members into thinking that the consultation it claims was so democratic was continuing right up until August.

What happened was when the top secret documents got into the public domain thanks to Consistent Life, the hapless Widney gave an interview to Reuters about the policy….red faces all round as Amnesty’s leadership realised it had been well and truly caught out.

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THE BBC Newsnight programme hosted by Kirsty Wark recently featured the Bishop of East Anglia Michael Evans and Phillippe Hensmans of Amnesty International discussing the organisation’s recent abortion policy.

The Amnesty International spokesman again claimed that there was a democratic process involved in adopting this policy, but of course, to date Amnesty has provided no proof of the impartiality or probity of the consultation process nor has it explained on what basis the UK’s consultation results were ignored or why it continued to claim the consultation process was ongoing after its leadership had made up its mind to force the policy on the organisation.

The spokesman appears to make the claim that Amnesty International is not responsible for the divide in its membership. Strictly speaking he is right, I suppose, the reason for the membership split is the leadership of Amnesty International.

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THE POPE said he spoke for unborn children when he warned that abortion was not a human right and pleaded for countries not to allow their abortion legislation to treat children as illnesses.

Although Pope Benedict XVI did not directly refer to Amnesty International’s decision to campaign for abortion in the statement he made in Austria on Friday, his remarks are a thinly-veiled criticism of the human rights organisation which has recently equated abortion with a human right. The Pope also called for countries to retain laws restricting abortions; a position that is also contrary to AI’s newly adopted abortion policy. AI was founded by Peter Benenson after he converted to Catholicism and its new policy has been widely criticised by the Catholic Church (see previous posts) and high-ranking Vatican officials.

The full transcript of the Pope’s speech is available here. The pertinent paragraphs follow:

It was in Europe that the notion of human rights was first formulated. The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right – it is the very opposite. It is “a deep wound in society”, as the late Cardinal Franz König never tired of repeating.

“In stating this, I am not expressing a specifically ecclesial concern. Rather, I wish to act as an advocate for a profoundly human need, speaking out on behalf of those unborn children who have no voice. In doing so, I do not close my eyes to the difficulties and the conflicts which many women are experiencing, and I realize that the credibility of what we say also depends on what the Church herself is doing to help women in trouble.

“In this context, then, I appeal to political leaders not to allow children to be considered as a form of illness, nor to abolish in practice your legal system’s acknowledgment that abortion is wrong. I say this out of a concern for humanity.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 7 September 2007

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I HAD AN email this morning about the blog asking why there was so much information from the Catholic Church. We’re always happy to hear from people and you can email us at saveamnesty @ gmail.com (you’ll need to remove the spaces on either side of the @ symbol – they’re added to reduce spam).

We do have a lot of information from the Catholic Church and the Catholic hierarchy – that is because many of the Church’s statements reflects the position we hold over this issue and the Church has been more vocal about the issue than any other organisation. But we have stressed in the past that this is not just a Catholic matter – and in the blog there are links to comments on the issue from different Christian denominations, other religions, including Islam, and those with no faith. We would be delighted to consider all comments from different religious groups and those with no affinity – and would be grateful for any information on this.

While we freely admit that we object to Amnesty International’s newly adopted abortion policy on moral and ethical grounds, that is far from our only objection and concern; for example, we’ve argued in the past that the policy is:

  • Inconsistent with AI’s s stated aim of protecting human rights;its arguments for other human rights; and inconsistent with international human rights laws, treaties and conventions. (more…)

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