Amnesty International (AI) has come under increasing criticism in recent years for what many see as a shift in emphasis away from its original efforts to secure the release of political prisoners to a more stridently partisan positions that cause friction with former allies.

A current case in point is a recent switch in Amnesty International’s position on abortion.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a statement calling AI out on its recent switch to supporting abortion in the case of rape:

To some, the action of Amnesty International may appear to be a compassionate response to women in difficult situations of pregnancy, but this is a false compassion. True commitment to women’s rights puts us in solidarity with women and their unborn children. It does not pit one against the other but calls us to advocate on behalf of both. As our Conference has argued, a far more compassionate response is to provide support and services for pregnant women, advance their educational and economic standing in society, and resist all forms of violence and stigmatization against women. The Catholic Church provides these services to many women around the world and will continue to do so.

We call upon Amnesty International once again to act in accord with its noblest principles, reconsider its error, and reverse its policy on abortion.

The USCCB statement followed hard on the heels of a response by AI to a statement made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

Cardinal Bertone:

“We cannot ever destroy life, we must always save life even if it is the fruit of violence,” exclaimed Cardinal Bertone in an exclusive interview with Vatican Radio about Amnesty International’s new abortion policy.

The human rights organization recently decided to change its policy from a position of neutrality to one that supports abortion, but did so without consulting its members.

However, this past week the organization’s delegates overwhelmingly approved the new policy at their meeting in Mexico City. The new protocol calls for abortion to be made available in the case of rape and requires the organization to push for the legalization of abortion in countries where it is currently outlawed.

Cardinal Bertone expressed his regret that the measure was approved even though “the men and women of the Church throughout the world already made their stark opposition to this decision clear.”

“Violence cannot be answered with further violence; murder with murder; for even if the child is unborn, it is still a human person. It has a right to dignity as a human being”, the Cardinal reportedly said.

The Secretary of State also stressed that all forms of violence against women must be opposed. “The inhuman violence of rape must be stopped, and society must be mobilized to protect the dignity of women.”

He also pointed out that “the Church has promoted the dignity of women in its documents and encyclicals” but that these seem to have gone largely unnoticed.

Amnesty International:

Amnesty International finds it unacceptable for women to be imprisoned for seeking or obtaining an abortion, or for women to be denied access to abortion services even when the UN Committee on Human Rights has held that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term that was a result of sexual violence in armed conflict is a form of torture; and in non-conflict situations cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Amnesty International finds the preventable death of 70,000 women per year — and the denial of medical services in a range of circumstances from ectopic pregnancies to complications from unsafe abortions — to be unacceptable. These are a violation of a woman’s right to life, right to health, right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment and punishment and the right to non-discrimination.

In response to the position of the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Amnesty International notes the right of the Vatican to hold its views on abortion and acknowledges human rights issues on which common ground does exist, including work against the death penalty, the release of prisoners of conscience and the abolition of torture. Amnesty International vigorously defends and respects the rights of individuals to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association. The matter of whether individuals, of any faith, agree with or oppose Amnesty International’s policy on sexual and reproductive rights, which includes selected aspects on abortion, is for the individual to decide and should be respected.

AI’s position on abortion appears inconsistent with its larger purpose of securing the rights and dignity of all people — unless the humanity of unborn babies is denied. This change takes the organization another step away from its original charter, and weakens its alliances with other groups — such as the Catholic hierarchy — that should be its natural allies.

[cehwiedel also writes at]

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