AI likely to affirm new abortion policy despite Catholic resistance
Amnesty International is likely to affirm a policy adopted in May that supports a woman's right to have an abortion under certain circumstances, despite opposition from Roman Catholic and conservative leaders worldwide, the AP/Guardian reports (Crary, AP/Guardian, 7/26).

According to the policy, safe abortions should be available to women in cases of rape or incest or when the health or life of a pregnant woman is at risk. Amnesty also is calling for the procedure to be decriminalized. Amnesty Senior Policy and Campaigns Director Widney Brown has said the policy is part of the group's global campaign to stop violence against women. The Amnesty policy does not acknowledge abortion as a "fundamental right" for women, and the organization supports the right of states to put "reasonable limitations" on abortion providers and to prosecute those who risk women's lives by performing unsafe abortions, according to Brown (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report , 6/15).

Critics have said that Amnesty has abandoned its principles by changing its previously neutral position on abortion, and they have called on the organization to repudiate the policy during its biennial meeting on August 11 in Mexico. The policy "undermines Amnesty's long-standing moral credibility, diverts its mission, divides its own members ... and jeopardizes Amnesty's support by people in many nations, cultures and religions," Bishop William Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops , said earlier this month (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's justice and peace department, last month called on Roman Catholics and Catholic organizations to withhold contributions to Amnesty because of the policy (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report , 6/15). Kate Gilmore, Amnesty's deputy secretary-general, said that it is "improbable" that the group will renounce the policy. She added that if there is any vote on the policy, it likely would reaffirm the strong support for it from the leaders of Amnesty's 70 national chapters (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

Noeleen Hartigan, program director for Amnesty International Irish Section , said the affiliate recently decided to effectively opt out of the policy and will not participate in Amnesty's abortion-related campaigns. According to the Irish Times, the decision by Amnesty's Irish affiliate was made after a two-year consultation with members. Gilmore said that "no one country can step away from the decisions of the organization as a whole," adding, "In Ireland's case, it's a matter of promoting other campaigns and finding areas that Ireland can work to its best strengths" (O'Driscoll, Irish Times, 7/28). Suzanne Trimmel, spokesperson for Amnesty International USA , said that a "handful" -- probably fewer than 200 -- of the chapter's 400,000 members have quit because of the policy change.

According to Gilmore, the policy will be invoked primarily in situations in which women are victimized by violence, intimidation and force, such as in the Darfur region of Sudan. Amnesty also might take action in Nigeria, where women seeking abortions can face punishment, and in Latin American countries, Gilmore said (AP/Guardian, 7/26).

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