By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic bishops have joined those calling for Amnesty International to rescind its recent policy change supporting women’s access to abortion.
The International Executive Committee of Amnesty International has declared that a woman should have full, legal access to abortion in cases of rape or incest or if her life or health is at grave risk. The new policy calls for eliminating criminal penalties for anyone who provides an abortion or obtains one.
The bishops’ call came in a July 2 statement from Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Skylstad urged Amnesty to “reconsider and rescind this new policy,” saying it “undermines Amnesty’s long-standing moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members — many of whom are Catholic or defend the rights of unborn children — and jeopardizes Amnesty’s support by people in many nations, cultures and religions.”
The bishop recalled that the Catholic Church has worked with Amnesty International for many years to support human rights and reach out to victims of abuse and torture. He said the organization has been an “inspiration to millions” and that the new policy was a tragic distraction that could hinder the important work Amnesty seeks to accomplish.
Bishop Skylstad quoted Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who recently said that, “if in fact Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organizations must withdraw their support, because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission.”
Last fall, when Amnesty was first considering abandoning its neutral stance on abortion, Bishop Skylstad warned that the human rights advocacy group would risk its “well-deserved moral credibility” if it did so.
In April of this year, Amnesty International changed its stance, describing the new policy of supporting women’s access to abortion as part of its Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
In his July 2 statement, Bishop Skylstad said the policy is misguided and invited Amnesty to join the Catholic Church in a more genuine outlook on women’s rights.
“While the proposed action by Amnesty International may appear to some to support women’s freedom or provide a compassionate response to women in difficult situations of pregnancy, abortion injures the health and dignity of women at the same time that it ends the life of the unborn child,” he said in his statement.
“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 them,” he said. “The Catholic Church provides these services to many women around the world and commits itself to continuing to do so.”
Amnesty International has stated that it supports access to abortion in all cases, not only in cases of rape or incest or grave risk to life or health, but also in other cases because of the difficulty victims have proving rape.
Bishop Skylstad encouraged members of the International Council of Amnesty International, who will meet in Mexico in August, to reverse the policy at that time.
“It is never too late to seek justice for all vulnerable and oppressed members of the human family,” he said.