Amnesty To Affirm New Abortion Policy Despite Opposition From Catholic

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Abortion Policy

Amnesty Internationalis likely to affirm a policy adopted in May that supports a woman'sright to have an abortion under certain circumstances, despiteopposition from Roman Catholic and conservative leaders worldwide, the AP/Guardian reports (Crary, AP/Guardian, 7/26).

Accordingto the policy, safe abortions should be available to women in cases ofrape or incest or when the health or life of a pregnant woman is atrisk. Amnesty also is calling for the procedure to be decriminalized.Amnesty Senior Policy and Campaigns Director Widney Brown has said thepolicy is part of the group's global campaign to stop violence againstwomen. The Amnesty policy does not acknowledge abortion as a"fundamental right" for women, and the organization supports the rightof states to put "reasonable limitations" on abortion providers and toprosecute those who risk women's lives by performing unsafe abortions,according to Brown (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 6/15).


Criticshave said that Amnesty has abandoned its principles by changing itspreviously neutral position on abortion, and they have called on theorganization to repudiate the policy during its biennial meeting onAug. 11 in Mexico. The policy "undermines Amnesty's long-standing moralcredibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members ... andjeopardizes Amnesty's support by people in many nations, cultures andreligions," Bishop William Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said earlier this month (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

CardinalRenato Martino, head of the Vatican's justice and peace department,last month called on Roman Catholics and Catholic organizations towithhold contributions to Amnesty because of the policy (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,6/15). Kate Gilmore, Amnesty's deputy secretary-general, said that itis "improbable" that the group will renounce the policy. She added thatif there is any vote on the policy, it likely would reaffirm the strongsupport for it from the leaders of Amnesty's 70 national chapters (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

Noeleen Hartigan, program director for Amnesty International Irish Section,said the affiliate recently decided to effectively opt out of thepolicy and will not participate in Amnesty's abortion-relatedcampaigns. According to the Irish Times, the decision byAmnesty's Irish affiliate was made after a two-year consultation withmembers. Gilmore said that "no one country can step away from thedecisions of the organization as a whole," adding, "In Ireland's case,it's a matter of promoting other campaigns and finding areas thatIreland can work to its best strengths" (O'Driscoll, Irish Times, 7/28). Suzanne Trimmel, spokesperson for Amnesty International USA, said that a "handful" -- probably fewer than 200 -- of the chapter's 400,000 members have quit because of the policy change.

Accordingto Gilmore, the policy will be invoked primarily in situations in whichwomen are victimized by violence, intimidation and force, such as inthe Darfur region of Sudan. Amnesty also might take action in Nigeria,where women seeking abortions can face punishment, and in LatinAmerican countries, Gilmore said (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

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