Amnesty International Twists International Law in Dominican Abortion Debate

The politicized human rights organization Amnesty International has again taken a pro-abortion position in a nation’s internal debate over abortion, coming out against the Dominican Republic’s proposed protections for unborn life in its draft constitution and in the country’s penal law. In so doing, Amnesty pits the rights of the mother against those of the unborn child while misrepresenting what international law says – or doesn’t say – about abortion.

In a statement issued a few weeks ago, Amnesty International claims that the country’s constitutional and legal reforms “could lead to violations of women’s human rights” and further claims that laws penalizing abortion would lead to increased maternal mortality. It also argued that the proposed protections of the unborn were inconsistent with the Dominican Republic’s “obligations under international human rights law.”

According to Amnesty, the penal law revisions “would increase penalties for persons involved in carrying out an abortion.” Amnesty criticized the proposed revisions for allowing criminal prosecution of abortionists “for providing abortion services that are safe.”

Critics point out, however, that in addition to being fatal to the child in utero, maternal health risks from abortion outweigh those associated with childbirth, particularly where the level of obstetric care is low.

Moreover, such claims about “international human rights law,” which Amnesty also made in an informal “friend-of-the-court” memorandum circulated last year among the justices of the Mexican Supreme Court, are contradicted by prior statements by the group. As recently as 2005, Amnesty acknowledged that “There is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law.”

Two years later, however, Amnesty International formally abandoned its previous objectivity and embraced abortion advocacy. According to Dr. Rachel MacNair, a former Amnesty member and Vice President of the group “Consistent Life,” Amnesty’s board “railroaded” the new policy through, never announcing the results of a member vote on the issue.

Since Amnesty International abandoned neutrality on abortion, it has become an increasingly aggressive abortion advocate.  Earlier this year it demanded that Mexican physicians be forced to perform abortions in cases of rape, even where doctors had conscientious objections to abortion. Noting the irony of a group founded to defend prisoners of conscience seeking to override conscience rights, MacNair called Amnesty’s Mexican position “too bizarre for words.”

Amnesty International’s Dominican statement closed by praising the judicial activism of the Colombian constitutional tribunal that in 2006 struck down certain penal laws in that country protecting unborn life, implicitly calling on Dominican courts to do the same.

Amnesty’s revisionist approach to global human rights is unsupported by traditional understandings of international law based principally on the consent of state parties to precisely-drafted and duly-ratified treaties. Activists have been pressing national courts to modify abortion laws to conform to their notions of evolving obligations and non-binding “interpretations” by United Nations treaty compliance committees, which are often staffed with radical advocates.

Among major human rights organizations, Human Rights First still maintains neutrality on the abortion issue, in contrast with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

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