Amnesty International Affirms New Abortion Policy

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Abortion Policy

Amnesty Internationalon Friday affirmed a policy that supports a woman's right to have anabortion under certain circumstances despite opposition from RomanCatholic and conservative leaders worldwide, BBC News reports (Pigott, BBC News,8/18). The organization at the end of its biennial meeting in MexicoCity said it would work to "support the decriminalization of abortion,to ensure women have access to health care when complications arisefrom abortion and to defend women's access to abortion ... when theirhealth or human rights are in danger" (Reuters, 8/17). According to London's Times,the new policy is automatically binding for Amnesty's members in eachmember country, including where abortion is illegal (Caldwell/Syal, Times, 8/21).

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 Senior Policy and Campaigns Director Widney Brown hassaid the policy is part of the group's global campaign to stop violenceagainst women. The 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.



Critics have said that Amnesty has abandoned its principles by changing its previously neutral position on abortion (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,7/30). Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's justice and peacedepartment, in June called on Roman Catholics and Catholicorganizations to withhold contributions to Amnesty because of thepolicy. 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-related campaigns(Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/30).

MichaelEvans, Roman Catholic bishop of East Anglia in England, has ended hismembership with Amnesty after the group affirmed its support for thenew policy, his office confirmed Tuesday, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News,8/21). Evans, who wrote a prayer for the Amnesty's "protect the human"campaign, in a statement on his Web site said, "Very regretfully, Iwill be ending my 31-year membership of Amnesty International"(Kelland, Reuters,8/21). "Appalling violence must not be answered by violence against themost vulnerable and defenseless form of human life in a woman's womb,"Evans said, adding, "There is no human right to access to abortion, andAmnesty should not involve itself even in such extreme cases."

KateGilmore, Amnesty's executive deputy secretary-general, said the groupsimply supports "women's human rights to be free of fear, threat andcoercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave humanrights violations" (Times, 8/21). 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 (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/30). According to BBC News, Amnesty's international council "overwhelmingly" supported the policy change (BBC News, 8/18).

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