Amnesty and Abortion


Universe Column, September 23rd 2007

Some months ago I wrote to Amnesty International protesting at the proposal to make support for abortion one of their worldwide objectives. I said that Amnesty’s founder, Peter Benenson, a Catholic, would have regarded this as a betrayal of Amnesty’s founding principles and ideals. In 1961 his mandate for founding Amnesty was fourfold: to work for the freedom of prisoners of conscience, to end torture, to oppose the death penalty and to work for fair trials for all.
Those responsible for extending the mandate to cover the promotion of abortion knew that it would place many of its supporters in an impossible position. Highly influential churchmen, such as Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Bishop Michael Evans, of East Anglia (a member of Amnesty for 31 years) have been left with no choice but to resign. An organisation committed to upholding rights of conscience should understand that better than most.
In addition to the resignations of Church leaders, there are reports that rock stars, such as Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne – who contributed to an Amnesty CD to raise money for Darfur – are also withdrawing their support in protest.
Bishop Evans succinctly put the reasons for opposing Amnesty’s decision when he said: “The Catholic Church shares Amnesty’s strong commitment to oppose violence against women, for example rape, sexual assault and incest, but such appalling violence must not be answered by violence against the most vulnerable and defenceless form of human life in a woman’s womb.”

Paradoxically, the practical effect of weakening and dividing Amnesty’s support base will be to undermine its effectiveness as a champion of those very concerns which led Peter Benenson to establish it in the first place. He once astutely observed that “It’s the publicity function of Amnesty that I think has made its name so widely known, not only to readers in the world, but to governments – and that’s what matters.”
The activists who have driven through this crass decision have forgotten what matters.
The publicity that has been generated has done the opposite of Benenson’s dictum: it has undermined Amnesty’s public reputation; and by dividing its supporters, and giving political leaders a reason for dismissing its work as motivated by political correctness, it has betrayed its mandate and those for whom Amnesty was created.
That Amnesty itself has qualms about what it is doing was egregiously revealed by a remark on their members-only section of their web site: “This policy will not be made public at this time. There is to be no proactive external publication of the policy position or of the fact of its adoption issued.” What would they make of a regime that tried to conceal its real intentions in this way?
Or, for that matter, a regime that offered the intellectual confusion and sophistry that it is alright to abort an unborn child, while dishonesty saying that they take “no position as to when life begins.” About as consistent as saying you’re privately against the death penalty, torture or racism but remaining neutral when Governments are complicit in these things.
Scientists and doctors – let alone parents who have seen their child on an ultrasound – know precisely what is present in the womb from fertilisation onwards: new life. No amount of fudging can change that.

On the day that Amnesty’s decision was reported in The Sunday Times an eight page report appeared in their colour supplement on what they termed “gender genocide”. They reported that in India nearly a million baby girls are aborted each year and that “sex determination and selective abortion has been turned into a multi-million-pound business” with “female foeticide, son preference, and sex selection now being used to cover up what amounts to illegal contract killings on a massive scale, with the contracts being between parents and doctors somehow justified as a form of consumer choice.”
Gender genocide, the distorted population imbalance, resultant trafficking of women, and the threat to social stability as the “bare branch” generation swell the population of rootless and marginalised males, should all give Amnesty some pause for thought.
So should the situation in China.
Where was Amnesty’s voice when Mrs.Yuan Weijing was recently detained at Beijing Airport? She is the wife of the self-taught blind human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who has been jailed for four years after exposing China’s one-child policy of forced abortion and sterilisation. Chen has regularly been beaten in prison.
Mrs.Yuan was due to travel to the Philippines to receive an award honouring her husband’s human rights work. Instead, she was seized at the airport, taken to the basement, where 16-17 strong men surrounded her. She was forcibly taken back to her town of Linyi where she said the men pulled her hair, twisted her arms, dragged her out of the car and confiscated her belongings.
Mrs.Yuan said “I tell you, the darkness of the society is way beyond your imagination.”
It was to illuminate such darkness and to shine a light on people like Yuan Weijing, and her extraordinarily brave husband, that Peter Benenson famously first lit the Amnesty candle.
Not only is Amnesty ignoring the plight of opponents of reproductive rights policies, and victims of female foeticide, they might also look at laws a little closer to home.
Can we now expect an Amnesty campaign to reverse discriminatory British laws which allow the eugenic abortion of babies up to birth on grounds such as cleft palate, hair lip, or other disabilities? Don’t hold your breath.

The paramount human right listed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to life. Tragically, Amnesty has forgotten that.

Simply adding to the more than 40 million babies aborted worldwide each year was not why Peter Benenson founded Amnesty. That’s why so many of its supporters feel so betrayed.