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Amnesty International Parts II & III: Is abortion moral?

Posted by Matthew McCusker on 24 October 2012

In 2007 the 'human-rights' organisation Amnesty International adopted a pro-abortion stance, proclaiming on the 14th June that:

"Amnesty International today firmly stood by the rights of women and girls to be free from threat, force or coercion as they exercise their sexual and reproductive rights1."

There was an immediate outcry among pro-life supporters of the group, such as the Rt Rev Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, who resigned his membership after thirty-one years of active involvement in the organisation.

Amnesty International is clearly anxious to try and regain lost support. SPUC has been forwarded a letter sent to one our supporters which expresses Amnesty's desire to "allow us to open up communication channels with you once again" and seeks to allay their concerns about their abortion policy. This letter, under the name of Imran Uppal of the Supporter Care Team of Amnesty International UK, seems to be a standard response which is sent to former supporters who have expressed opposition to their policy.

In this series I will examine both this letter and the general consistency of their policy.

Part II: Amnesty International and the morality of abortion

We saw above that Amnesty International, when corresponding with prospective donors who are pro-life, seem to downplay their ideological commitment to abortion.

Is it for similar motives that in their letter to lost supporters they claim that they do not "take a position on whether or not abortion is right or wrong"?

This is a very surprising statement in light of the statements contained both in this letter and on their website which suggest that they regard abortion as morally legitimate. I quote a selection below:

"Therapeutic abortion is a matter of common sense and humanity2."

"The denial of abortion … [is] a form of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment3."

"It is appalling that the Nicaraguan authorities ... reject these recommendations to work for a change in law [i.e to permit abortion]. Yet again it's missed another opportunity to right this terrible wrong [i.e. the prohibition of abortion is a moral wrong]4."

It is quite clear from even a cursory examination of Amnesty International's materials that they speak and act as if abortion is not only morally acceptable but that its provision is a moral duty. So why do they tell pro-lifers that they do not 'take a position on whether or not abortion is right or wrong'?

Part III: Amnesty International and the Development of Human Life

In the letter under examination Amnesty International claims that it "takes no position as to when life begins."

This statement places Amnesty International in opposition to the universally recognised and scientifically verified fact that the human embryo is, from the moment of conception, a living being. There are no grounds for asserting that an embryo is not alive. This is acknowledged by leading advocates of abortion whose justification of the practice revolves not around the question of when life begins but rather around debates on the nature of personhood. Consider for example the words of Ann Furedi, the Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service; "I think we can accept the embryo is a human life of sorts. For me the question is: 'When does human life really begin to matter?5'"

Why then does Amnesty International resort to such an absurd statement, which is the biological equivalent of claiming that the earth is flat or that the moon is made out of cheese?

The two statements discussed above, namely, that Amnesty International has no position 'as to when life begins' or 'on whether or not abortion is right or wrong' must be considered in conjunction with each other.

The use of these statements allows them to retreat to the ideology of 'choice' when faced with the reality of abortion by their former pro-life supporters. They can argue that as they don't know the answers to these questions they simply support the right of women to choose for themselves. However this runs contrary to the sound reasoning that we generally employ in our decisions on moral questions.

For example, imagine that a demolition team are contracted to destroy a condemned block of flats. However the flats have in recent months often been inhabited by squatters and a concern is raised on the morning of the demolition that there might still be people inside. Would we consider it morally licit for them to go ahead anyway on the grounds that they were doubtful as to whether any human beings would be killed? Or would we consider them to be guilty of a callous disregard for human life?

If Amnesty International, in defiance of all the scientific evidence, are still not able to reach certain knowledge that life begins at conception then opposing abortion would be the only logical moral position that they could take for as long as they were doubtful about the humanity of the unborn child. To act otherwise would be to knowingly and willingly take the risk of advocating for the killing of an innocent human being. This is, in fact, exactly what Amnesty International do.

See also

1. http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=17378
2. From a document produced by the Pan-American Health Organisation and used by Amnesty International to support their position in 'The Total Abortion Ban in Nicaragua', Amnesty International (London, 2009)
3. http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20375
4. http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=18809
5. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/ann-furedi-a-womans-right-to-choose-is-also-her-right-to-be-human-1021691.html

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