Amnesty International's (AI) decision to support the worldwide decriminalization of abortion is having a huge impact on membership, with many members threatening to break, or already having broken from Amnesty, reported Australia's The Age newspaper earlier today. The Age also speculated that many of Amnesty's disgruntled employees and supporters may band together to found a new human rights organization.
Amnesty International publicly admitted its new policy to support the universal decriminalization of abortion earlier this month, to the dismay of many of its longtime supporters.
Already numerous high-level Amnesty supporters around the world have expressed disappointment over the human rights organization's policy decision, and have resigned from or have ceased supporting AI.
"Members are lining up to resign," claimed Australian Catholic priest and school principal Fr. Chris Middleton in a piece printed in the online journal Online Opinion.
Personally, he pointed out, "As a Catholic priest and the Principal of a school with an active Amnesty group, such a change in policy places me in the unwanted position of contemplating the closing down of Amnesty's presence in the school."
In Australia alone around 500 Catholic schools, and many more Christian schools have Amnesty member groups. But if the Catholic and Christian response in Australia is like what it has been elsewhere in the world, then Amnesty risks losing many, if not all of those member groups.
According to the Melbourne Vicar-General Les Tomlinson, the Australian bishops are already preparing to make a formal response to Amnesty's abortion-advocacy, and it is unlikely to be a favorable one.
"There's always been a sympathy between Amnesty's goals and ideals and the Church, so this is a significant step," said Tomlinson.
Widney Brown, Amnesty's international director of policy, is continuing to defend the policy, however, despite the outrage of many of Amnesty's staunchest supporters.
"Our researchers found that in armed conflict, in places like the Congo and Darfur, the pregnancies were not only unwanted but led to ostracism," said Brown. "Women were further stigmatized if they had a child from a combatant from the other side. If a woman is raped and doesn't have access to abortion, that's cruel and degrading treatment."
In the United States, Republican Chris Smith, one of 70 House members who wrote to Amnesty last November in the hope of convincing the organization not to change its policy on abortion, has reiterated his disappointment with AI.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Chris Smith pointed out that AI's new policy makes it "just another pro-abortion organization."
He also discredited the claim that Amnesty is only seeking to "decriminalize abortion," and not to legalize it. "When you decriminalize, you legalize. If there is no sanction, there is no law," he said.
The Catholic bishops in Canada, England, and the United States have already condemned AI's abortion policy, pointing out that through its decision Catholics are rendered unable to support the organization.
"Such a change in policy would be considered by the Catholic bishops of Canada to be a step backwards for an organization that has done such outstanding work in defending human life and the rights of the most vulnerable," said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. "This change in policy would make it difficult for Catholics to continue supporting the work of Amnesty International."
In August of 2006 the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a similar statement. UK Bishop Michael Evans, a 30-year member of Amnesty International (AI) and author of the 2005 year's Amnesty Prayer said last June that he would be forced to resign over Amnesty's new abortion stance.