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Amnesty International and Abortion
Last updated March 18, 2008

Roll Back Amnesty International

Some current and former members of Amnesty International launched a campaign on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2007, to roll back AI's position on abortion. For more information, see the Roll Back Amnesty Web site. Also see an interview with Andrew Eager of Roll Back Amnesty (Nonviolent Choice Blog, March 17, 2008).

Action Alert, July 12, 2007

Amnesty International is running a participants survey, so this is a good opportunity to express dismay at their recent move toward supporting abortion. They even include the euphemism “a women's right to choose” in their list of issues!

While they didn't have a spot for general comment, I put my comment in the “Other” box on Question #20.

For those who would like to do something similar, the address is:

-Rachel MacNair

Press Release

Amnesty International Distresses
Many of Its Supporters

Contact: Rachel M. MacNair, Ph.D.
AI Campaign Coordinator, Consistent Life
Phone: 816-753-2057 (Central Time Zone)

Despite pleas from many supporters, Amnesty International (AI) has recently adopted a new policy which ignores human rights documents it has historically advocated for; specifically, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child states that every child “needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.” [Resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959]. AI has stated that abortion should be decriminalized and the governments should see that there is access to it in particular cases. While it maintains its previous stand against blatantly forced abortions, the pressures that coerce and abandon women to abortion have been ignored. AI decision-makers appear unaware that women who have had abortions make up one of the largest constituency groups of the anti-abortion movement.

The AI International Executive Committee took this action despite indications that substantial numbers of members disapproved. Internal polling in AI’s U.K. chapter showed a plurality against it. The results of an on-line vote of members in the United States last Fall have yet to be announced. A member who tried to leaflet other members on this issue at the U.S. national conference on March 24 was barred, and when she asked if she was being censored, she was told yes. For more details and documentation, see

A registry of AI supporters who pled with AI not to take this step is available at Signers include Fr. Daniel Berrigan, who commented: “My moral conviction on abortion and the rights of the unborn are more serious than 'a point of view' . . . It's as close to my conscience as war and the death penalty.” Other signers include Jim Forest, former General Secretary of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Prisoner of Conscience Tom Cordero; and Cecilia Brown, noted for her international gay-rights activism. Shelley Douglass, known for her leadership in anti-nuclear weapons activism, states, “as time passes, we will come to understand the violence of abortion.”

Many of the signatories have worked closely on a number of Amnesty's programs. Frank McNeirney, national coordinator of an anti-death penalty coalition, worked with Amnesty's Faith in Action Initiative against capital punishment. Mary Grace, a Freedom Writer, helped in advising letter-writing campaigns. Also included are Thomas Friedl, an assistant in Germany's Parliament; Raymond Noble, a former New Jersey Attorney General for Civil Rights; Oklahoma State Senator Rebecca Hamilton; and Nadine Wu, a former intern with AI.

Consistent Life is a network of over 200 organizations that oppose war, abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, poverty and the death penalty.

Consistent Life Pleads
with Amnesty International

by Rachel MacNair
Vice President, Consistent Life

Updated October 17, 2007

Being a long-time Amnesty International member and having registered for their national conference, I was passing out leaflets as people left the final plenary there. Approached by a worried-looking woman who asked if I had coordinated this with the authorities, I cheerfully say no, but that I was a member who had registered. She took a copy and left, while I passed out more to people who took them in the friendly fashion to which activist audiences would be accustomed. Then she came back and told me it was against the rules for anyone to pass out leaflets having to do with policy; if I wanted to discuss policy, the place for that was the session voting on resolutions the next day. Knowing that meeting was already covering nine resolutions in only three hours, and that the idea that an individual could bring up a concern on an item not already on the agenda was absurd, I simply asked her if AIUSA was therefore censoring people. And she answered: “Yes.”

This vignette was the clearest example of how the decision moving AI in the direction of abortion as a “right” has moved. Technically, the three points of the new policy are that pregnant victims of rape or incest are entitled to abortion; that while it need not be legalized it should be decriminalized; and that medical care after botched abortions should be provided. That last point is unobjectionable, of course, except for the fact that the other two points limit governments' ability to prevent the botched abortions they're supposed to provide aftercare for.

I did in fact have a long conversation with one of the people on the International Executive Committee which is making the abortion decision, on the day previous to the leafleting censorship. It was a very satisfying conversation, except for two things. One was that it clearly should have happened near the beginning or middle of the “consultation process” on the policy, rather than near the end, and something like it would have if their efforts were sincere. He didn't know basic things - for example, that women who've had abortions are one of the largest constituency groups in the pro-life movement. The other problem was that the very next morning, in the workshop on implementing the new policy, he reversed what he had said that evening about the discussion still being on-going though the final vote was imminent. He and the other panelists said that this was essentially a done deal, and we should go ahead and plan for it. In fact, one remark he made about how staff people have had the ability to say the decision was only under consideration up to now sounded to my ears like the decision was actually settled long ago. The “consultation process” was a ruse to make it look legitimate, and I was unable to ascertain whether they knew they were fooling people with that or whether they had actually fooled themselves into thinking so as well.

Word is that polling of the UK membership showed the majority wishing the organization to remain abortion-neutral (see The U.S. members were not all aware that there even was a web-based vote, such as it was, hidden on the web page members-only section with no publicity, and a deadline of December 1. How it turned out, the Board members never said, even though they were clearly process-oriented people and a solid vote would have strengthened their case considerably when they claimed the membership was for it. One staff person for membership mentioned to me that there was a need for education on the new policy since a lot of members didn't understand it well. When I pointed out that if they didn't understand it, that means they also didn't decide it, she had no answer.

Consistent Life had also sent four people to the AI Midwest regional conference. Though not allowed to have an official table or to leaflet there either, they did have a table nearby through the university. They report attempts to try to get reconsideration of last year's vote to consider the new abortion policy were not satisfying in terms of having confidence that full democracy is being practiced.

There was a student from Marquette Students for Life who leafleted the first day, out on the street where AI had no authority. But she found that very few conference attendees were going in and out there, since they were staying at the same hotel where the conference was. So attendees had an added layer of protection against being faced with leaflets. Someone with Democrats for Life found the same thing on the morning of the last day, but he went up to the conference itself and leafleted for about 15 minutes before he was caught at it. We had different leaflets; mine was a copy of the on-line petition that had been signed by 661 AI supporters as of March 12, 2007. I did get leaflets to most of the crowd at the anti-genocide rally for Darfur, where of course I was one of many leafletters; that crowd included attendees and people in town. I also did get a copy of the petition into the hands of each member of the US Board of Directors, who had also received a lengthier letter from Consistent Life on the topic at their last Board meeting in New York.

There are two issues here: one is the abortion policy itself, and one is how much it's being decided by members and supporters as opposed to being decided by an elite who knows what's good for us. One Board member, in explaining the policy, said that AI was normally out in front on progress in human rights, but here was a case where they were lagging behind other groups such as the European Court. But of course the dispute here is over what would constitute “being out in front” on using violence to solve problems. They also commented that they expected some problems at first just as they had with the death penalty, but they're expecting that to subside over time. To the consistent-life mind, the analogy to the death penalty opposition is particularly distressing; it would be more consistent, after all, to take a position against abortion for that reason, and “be out in front” that way.

So the decision is made - evidence suggests that it always was - and many of those of us AI supporters who are heartsick about it no longer have a voice inasmuch as it can be said that we ever did. We therefore suggest the following organizations (which have no position on abortion) for those who wish to re-direct their human rights donation budget elsewhere:
We are hoping to also find some alternatives for those student groups who no longer wish to affiliate with AI but would like to continue their good work. Suggestions are welcome.

It would be good to include a note to let these groups know that they are getting funds re-directed from AI and why, to make it less likely that they will move in a pro-abortion direction in the future.

If you wish to drop a line to AI:
  • Amnesty International USA
    5 Penn Plaza, 14th floor
    New York, NY 10001
    Phone: (212) 807-8400
    Fax: (212) 463-9193
  • Amnesty International International Secretariat
    1 Easton Street
    London WC1X 0DW, UK
    Phone: 44-20-74135500
    Fax: 44-20-79561157

An Alternative for Student Groups

Some schools in Australia have formed the Benenson Society as an abortion-neutral alternative human rights group for students. It is named after Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International (AI). It sponsors human rights campaigns similar to those of AI.

Student groups and individual students anywhere in the world may affiliate with the Benenson Society. Others may be associate members.

The Benenson Society will cooperate on specific issues with AI, while not having any formal link to it. It will also work with other groups such as Consistent Life, Christians Against Torture, Aid to the Church in Need, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Human Rights First.

Information from Amnesty International

Amnesty International USA has produced their own explanatory information for members. It can be a bit hard to access so we've compiled the pieces together into one PDF file for easy use.

Several national sections of Amnesty International have proposed resolutions relating to abortion to the International Council Meeting in Mexico August 11-17, 2007. We have extracted those resolutions from a larger document and put them into one PDF file for easy use.

After the International Council Meeting, AI issued an Updated explanation of the policy.

Views and News from Various Sources
(we no longer update this section)

Amnesty International Campaign Coordinator

Rachel Macnair
811 East 47th St.
Kansas City, MO 64110-1631
Fax 816-753-7741
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