Amnesty International’s controversial decision to support the decriminalisation of abortion has lost it the support of pro-life human-rights activists, reports Paul McCormack.
Amnesty has recently ditched its traditional policy of having no position on abortion, to one of officially supporting the decriminalisation of abortion.
As with many pro-abortion advocates, the key argument appears to have been based around the circumstance of rape, particularly as it occurs in war zones.
Notwithstanding this argument, Amnesty’s position has gone even further to demand access to abortion services, when there is supposedly a mental or physical health risk for a pregnant woman. Hence, the policy more closely resembles a document crafted by pro-choice people in the Western world than one that reflects specific concerns of human rights violations in war-torn countries.
Until recently, Amnesty’s stance on controversial issues has been far more restrained. Amnesty’s position on abortion has traditionally been to have no position.
Critics of Amnesty could level the charge that this was a case of being ambivalent about a major human-rights issue, while members – and supporters – of the international organisation could defend the policy as being a pragmatic compromise that would not detract from Amnesty’s central emphasis on the right to freedom of speech.
The most accurate description is probably to say that Amnesty’s former position on abortion was akin to Switzerland’s neutrality during World War II – rightly or wrongly, it was able to reap the rewards of staying out of the conflict.
In this country, one of the most thoughtful critiques of Amnesty’s position has been written by Chris Middleton, the principal of St Aloysius College in Sydney, one of the many Australian schools that has had an Amnesty group as part of its social justice program.
In an article entitled “Perilous position for unborn” (The Australian, June 6, 2007), Middleton describes the apparent level of secrecy surrounding Amnesty’s change of position, and also notes the subsequent discord among many of the organisation’s members.
The effect of Amnesty’s decision will probably not be as significant as in past times, when there were fewer human rights and aid organisations within Western nations. However, the change of position will create serious ruptures with many people who previously admired and respected Amnesty.
Christian, especially Catholic, schools and all people who have been associated with Amnesty at the same time that they have been opposed to abortion, have good reason to feel alienated by Amnesty and sceptical of its future direction. Many will likely feel they have no alternative to severing ties with the organisation.
More than that, it will reduce the scope for Christians and non-Christians to work together on global issues of common concern.
Take the concept of social justice. Social justice has long been a core value and mission within Catholic schools. The effectiveness of social justice, both as a concept and in practice, is its ability to garner support among a large cross-section of people, religious and non-religious, around universal ideals.
There are few people, for instance, who would disagree with missions such as reducing poverty in third world nations. Social justice is an expression of Christianity that can simultaneously help non-Christians feel they can make a moral contribution within their school community and enable Christian members to practise core values of their faith without upsetting anyone.
Thus, key principles that are used to promote social justice activities include broad appeals to human rights and well-being.
It follows, then, that many schools have been attracted to organisations founded upon broad-based human rights values, such as World Vision and Amnesty International, to pursue their various social justice activities.
Hence, the presence in schools of groups affiliated with Amnesty – an organisation established in 1961 by English lawyer and Catholic convert, Peter Benenson – has been a natural occurrence.
Amnesty has long been known for championing the rights of “prisoners of conscience”, people who have been denied the right to free speech and have suffered persecution as a result of speaking out against undemocratic governments.
Finally, one should ask, what has Amnesty gained from its change of position? The short answer is nothing: the same secular, “pro-choice” people of the left who endorse decriminalisation would have supported Amnesty’s principles beforehand, so the organisation would appear to have gained no more friends by its recent move, while it has lost a number of supporters.
Its founding objective is now contradicted by its own positions: an organisation purportedly concerned with human rights is now opposed to the most fundamental human right of all.
It seems that the leadership of Amnesty International has not grasped the abiding rule for succeeding in social justice initiatives: unite as many people in a common cause by offending as few people as possible.
– Paul McCormack is a high-school teacher in Mildura, Victoria.