Global human rights group Amnesty International (AI), which officially abandoned its neutrality on abortion in 2007, has authored a pro-abortion legal memorandum addressed to the Supreme Court of Mexico asking the high court to uphold liberal abortion in Mexico City. The memorandum directly contradicts AI’s previous position that “there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law.”AI’s memo supports a liberalized first-trimester abortion law passed last year by Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly that has been challenged by Mexico’s Attorney General. AI cites several treaties signed by Mexico, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention Against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, claiming that they require the Court to uphold the legislation.
As AI had previously acknowledged, however, no such right can be found in any of the treaties mentioned in AI’s legal brief. Human rights treaties are consensus documents negotiated by governments, many of which outlawed abortion at the time of ratification, and thus are silent on the subject of abortion. To underscore that such treaties would leave their domestic laws unchanged, some countries made explicit formal interpretative statements and reservations at the time of signing protecting the rights of the unborn child.
AI’s submission cites no treaty language in support of its argument that a failure to uphold the challenged law would “result in violations of Mexico’s international human rights obligations.” The Amnesty brief does, however, reference a report by a UN treaty monitoring body, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which pressured the Mexican government on abortion in 2006. Such committees are composed of unelected members many of whom are drawn from pro-abortion non-governmental organizations. Such committees take it upon themselves to reinterpret treaties and then try to get governments to agree even though committee pronouncements are non-binding.
AI’s new approach apparently mirrors strategy adopted by the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), which along with the International Commission of Jurists filed a third-party intervention in the Mexico City case. In 2006, CRR had persuaded Colombia’s constitutional court to overturn that country’s pro-life laws based on the argument that by acceding to various treaties, a sovereign nation must conform its domestic laws to subsequent treaty body interpretations of what constitutes its evolving obligations.
AI was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson, a Catholic convert, to combat human rights abuses by totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Compared with more secular-oriented human rights counterparts, Amnesty International has historically drawn support from members of various religious denominations. After decades of defending human dignity without compromising the rights of the unborn, its 2007 abortion policy switch alienated a number of its long-time supporters, including Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Bishop Michael Evans — a member of thirty years standing — and activist priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J., all of whom have withdrawn support from AI as a result.