Scottish Cardinal Ends Amnesty International Membership Over New Abortion Policy

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New Abortion Policy

Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Roman Catholic Churchin Scotland, on Tuesday announced he will end his membership with Amnesty International because of the group's new policy that supports a woman's right to have an abortion under certain circumstances, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News,8/28). The organization at the end of its biennial meeting in MexicoCity said it would work to "support the decriminalization of abortionto 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." The new policy is automaticallybinding for Amnesty's members in each member country, including whereabortion is illegal.

According to the policy, safe abortionsshould be available to women in cases of rape or incest, or when thehealth or life of a pregnant woman is at risk. Amnesty Senior Policyand Campaigns Director Widney Brown has said the policy is part of thegroup's global campaign to stop violence against women. The policy doesnot acknowledge abortion as a "fundamental right" for women, and theorganization supports the right of states to put "reasonablelimitations" on abortion providers and to prosecute those who riskwomen's lives by performing unsafe abortions, according to Brown.

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Catholic Leaders' Reaction

Critics have said that Amnesty has abandoned its principles by changingits previously neutral position on abortion. Cardinal Renato Martino,head of the Vatican's Justice and Peace Department, in June called onRoman Catholics and Catholic organizations to withhold contributions toAmnesty because of the policy. Michael Evans, Roman Catholic bishop ofEast Anglia in England, earlier this month ended his Amnesty membershipafter the group affirmed its support for the new policy (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report,8/21). O'Brien in a letter to John Watson, director of Amnesty inScotland, said the new policy "forced" him to reconsider his"membership of this noble organization" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/28).

According to London's Times,many of Amnesty's "strongest backers" have been Catholics, and somepeople are concerned that the resignations of O'Brien and Evans signalthat others will rethink their support for the group. "Sadly now,Amnesty International seems to be placing itself at the forefront of acampaign for a universal 'right' to abortion," O'Brien, who joinedAmnesty as a student more than 40 years ago, wrote. He added, "For meit is a matter of conscience. ... Others must follow their ownconsciences" (Gledhill, Times, 8/28).

Watson said,"Our position on the matter of abortion has been informed by our workin, for example, Darfur -- where rape is used systematically as aweapon of war." He added, "We encourage the Catholic Church not to turnaway from the suffering that women face because of sexual violence andurge the Catholic leadership to advocate tolerance and respect forfreedom of expression for all human rights defenders" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 8/28).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyWomen's Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for emaildelivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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