Amnesty International Responds to Congressional Letter on Backing Abortion

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 20, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Amnesty International Responds to Congressional Letter on Backing Abortion Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 20
, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Amnesty International has responded to a letter from 74 members of Congress who are asking the human rights watchdog to keep its neutral position on abortion. The group said it is not looking into backing all abortions, but is considering supporting abortions in cases of sexual abuse such as rape or incest.

On Monday afternoon, Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who is the leader of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and several leaders of pro-life groups told a press conference they don’t want AI to support abortion.

Smith discussed a "strongly worded" letter he and 73 members of Congress have written to Larry Cox, AI’s executive director.

In a statement obtained, AI responded by saying it is not considering backing legalized abortion in general.

"AI is not debating whether women have the right to terminate pregnancies under any circumstances," the group said.

Instead, the organization, which has two million members spread throughout 74 countries, is debating whether or not to advocate for better health care for women who have complications from botched abortions and whether to support legalizing abortions in cases of sexual abuse or a pregnancy’s risk to the mother’s life.

The human rights group also said it may pursue "the removal of criminal penalties for those who seek or provide abortions."

A final decision on whether AI will retain its neutral position could be made at Amnesty International’s next international meeting that will be held in Mexico in August of 2007.

The group confirmed Monday that its "policies are determined by AI members worldwide through a democratic process."

In the Congressional letter, lawmakers urged the organization to maintain a neutral position or adopt a pro-life view that abortion destroys the human rights of women and children.

The letter states that a decision to support or condone abortion would "significantly undermine Amnesty’s reputation and effectiveness."

"The killing of an unborn child by abortion can never be construed to be a human right," Smith said in a statement provided to "Therefore, taking a position that supports violence against children is antithetical to everything Amnesty International stands for."

"It is not possible for Amnesty to justify any position that condones abortion based on international human rights law while at the same time remain true to their principles," Smith said.

AI, in its Monday statement, thanked Smith, who it called a "steadfast partner" on other less controversial human rights issues.

Deirdre McQuade, the pro-life spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Kristen Day, the director of Democrats for Life of America, joined Smith at the Monday afternoon press conference.

Rep. Dan Lungren, a pro-life California Republican, and Luis Fortuno, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, joined the press event as well.

Incoming Republican Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is one of the signatories on the Congressional letter.

Meanwhile, Catholic church leaders in various countries have spoken up against AI supporting abortion and said the organization, founded by a lay Catholic, stands to lose a decent percentage of its membership if it backs abortion.

AI affiliates in Canada and England have voted in favor of Amnesty International supporting abortion. The British group wants the international organization to back all abortions while the Canadian affiliate said abortion should only be supported in limited cases such as rape or incest.

AI could adopt the pro-abortion position by a consensus or formal vote or send the discussion back to its affiliates for further consideration.

AI’s decision to consider whether or not to take a pro-abortion stance is upsetting human rights campaigners across the globe who say the right to life is the basic human right. Should AI promote abortion, pro-life advocates are concerned at the international effects the decision will have.

AI would likely begin filing lawsuits on behalf of women in nations where abortion is illegal, such as the recent lawsuit that legalized abortion in Columbia in cases of rape and incest or severe fetal handicaps.

Thanks to Bush administration officials, the United Nations has not ratified documents declaring abortion an international right and the president will likely work to prevent that as long as he is in office.

However, AI’s proposal says it will encourage NGOs who lobby at the UN to press for an international document saying abortion is a human right.

Currently, Amnesty International says it “takes no position on whether or not women have a right to choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies; there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law.”

TAKE ACTION: Tell Amnesty International that you don’t want it to become a pro-abortion organization fighting to make abortion legal worldwide. Go to to contact the group and express your opposition. Also, use the group’s web site to find your national affiliate and tell them you oppose the idea.