“Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies.”

Even before it met in Mexico at the start of August, the International Council of Amnesty was being urged, by representatives of the Catholic Church, to reverse their Executive Council’s recommendations on sexual and reproductive rights. Instead the International Council affirmed those recommendations, as noted in this press release – “Amnesty International committed itself to strengthening the organization’s work on the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and other factors contributing to women’s recourse to abortion and affirmed the organization’s policy on selected aspects on abortion (to support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger), emphasizing that women and men must exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination and violence.” More details here. Subsequently the President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is reported to have said that there should be “no more Catholic financing of Amnesty International” and, more generally, urged Catholic organisations worldwide to withdraw their support. From the detail of Amnesty International’s affirmation of policy

Amnesty International supports women in claiming their rights. The lived experience of girls and women including of those with whom we work directly, shows how central are sexual and reproductive rights to their freedoms including their right to be free from gender-based violence and as a remedy where they have been subjected to such violence:

Forced and child marriage is a violation of girls’ and women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Denying women access to reproductive health services is a violation of their reproductive rights. Denying them access to lifesaving obstetric care is a violation of their right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Forced abortions or sterilizations carried out by family planning officials or others acting in an official capacity violate reproductive rights and are grave violations of physical and mental integrity amounting to torture.

Obstructing rape survivors’ access to legal abortion services is a violation of their sexual and reproductive rights.

Women must have access to safe and legal abortion services in cases of unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape, sexual assault or incest.

Imprisonment or other criminal sanctions for seeking or having an abortion is a violation of women’s reproductive rights.

Women must have access to safe and legal abortion services where continuation of pregnancy poses a risk to their life or grave risk to their health.

Individuals have the right to seek, receive and impart information in relation to sexuality and reproduction without unreasonable restrictions. They have the right to access to information and services regarding sexual and reproductive health, including in relation to prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Women have the right to not be denied maternal health care, which should be accessible, affordable, adequate and of sufficiently high quality, taking into account their cultural needs. They have the right to access health care without discrimination.

The decision by Amnesty to affirm the policy comes after a two-year world-wide consultation within the organisation and they responded to the criticism here.

“We are a movement to protect citizens including the believer but we do not impose beliefs. Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God. It means that sometimes the secular framework of human rights that Amnesty International upholds will converge neatly with the standpoints of certain faith based communities; sometimes it will not.”

But perhaps the most interesting comparison of responses comes from Amnesty Italy, as reported here

Amnesty Italy said in a statement in April that it had decided to involve itself in issues relating to abortion “to the extent that they are directly linked to its actions for the right to health and against violence against women.”

and Amnesty International’s Irish section, as noted by this Irish Times report [subs req]

Noeleen Hartigan, Amnesty International Ireland’s programmes director, has confirmed the Irish branch has effectively opted out of the controversial new policy, which seeks to address the lack of abortion availability, especially following mass rapes and ethnic cleansing.

Whilst the decidedly anti-choice website LifeStyle.net has additional quotes

Hartigan explained the actual situation to LifeSiteNews.com, saying, “The International Secretariat will, in consultation with national sections, develop campaigning actions to support women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including where relevant, action on selected aspects of abortion. At this point, when campaigning actions are to be implemented, all national sections of Amnesty International will decide which of these are relevant and appropriate to undertake at the domestic level.”

She continued, “In the Irish Section we will not be campaigning on the issue as it is not something our membership wish to work on. Amnesty International is one movement,” she further explained. It is diverse in its membership throughout the world and within Ireland.”

While not actively campaigning on abortion, Amnesty Ireland has not severed itself from the “one movement” Amnesty International and the abortion policy that it promotes. As Amnesty’s deputy secretary-general Kate Gilmore said, quoted by Kaiser Network, “No one country can step away from the decisions of the organization as a whole.” She added, “In Ireland’s case, it’s a matter of promoting other campaigns and finding areas that Ireland can work to its best strengths.”

At the start of this week Michael Evans, the RC bishop of East Anglia, and an active member for 31-years, resigned from Amnesty – which prompted this response from Amnesty spokesman Philippe Hensmans, “Amnesty is not a Catholic organization, and we can understand that the bishop, being part of the hierarchy of the church, can take no other position.”

Last night, Newsnight, hosted a debate between the two [RealPlayer file 34 mins in] where the focus was on tip-toeing through the minefield of competing rights.. something that our local representatives have still to do..