Saturday, September 22, 2007

Amnesty International's stance on abortion

Sp!ked has a good point about Amnesty International's stance on abortion.

The real Amnesty-abortion scandal

Forget the Catholic Church’s predictable stance on abortion. Why is a human rights group so cavalier about a woman’s right to choose?


Amnesty International was founded as an organization working against political prisoners and torture, but has become a all-round human rights' organization. Probably the most well-known such, as a matter of fact.

This means that their opinion and stance on issues carry a certain weight.

What is more shocking? The fact that the Catholic Church, well known for its obsessive opposition to abortion and contraception, should threaten to cut its links with organisations that support a woman’s right to choose? Or the fact that Amnesty International, a Western, liberal, progressive outfit whose slogan is ‘Protect the Human’, remained, until recently, neutral on the question of abortion, and now only supports a woman’s right to choose if she has been raped or made pregnant as a result of incest?


I wasn't actually aware that Amnesty International don't support women's right to choose fully, but I was aware that they only recently started to support it at all (I just thought they supported it fully).

Some of this is probably due to them not wanting to offend their allies, such as the Catholic Church. However, this is not an acceptable reason in my book, especially not given the support given by the Catholic Church to regimes like "Baby Doc" Duvalier in the past. They are not exactly a morale barometer that you want to use.

Amnesty was traditionally neutral on abortion. This was partly because it has close links with the Catholic Church and carries out much of its work in Catholic countries, and it did not want to upset the bishops by mentioning the A-word. And it was partly because Amnesty describes itself as a ‘human rights organisation’, and ‘there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law’ (3). This meant that Amnesty could largely ignore the question of abortion, despite the fact that women in the developing world need legal abortion services every bit as much as women in the West do. In countries where abortion is legal, the maternal mortality rate is 0.2 per 100,000 – in countries where abortion is illegal, the rate is 330 per 100,000. There are an estimated 20million abortions around the world every year, and according to the World Health Organisation many of them are ‘carried out by unskilled staff in unsafe conditions’ (4). Yet in order to keep sweet with the Catholics, and in the name of sticking to the letter of international human rights legislation, Amnesty trotted the globe for years criticising prison conditions and rights violations without uttering a word of public support for a woman’s right to choose.


I would also guess that not having a stance on abortion would make AI more digestible by certain religious groups in the US. Given the fact that these religious groups are politically well-connected, this might make sense from a purely real-political stance, however, from a humanitarian stance, it certainly doesn't.

In many ways, a woman’s right to choose – a real, meaningful right which, if enjoyed, can have an immensely positive impact on a woman’s life and status – is the very opposite of a human right. Where human rights are written from on high and passed down like a list of instructions to national governments, the right to choose is about a woman having control over her own body and personhood. It gives her power over her destiny and increases the choices she can make about work, family life and social life. Where human rights emphasise governments’ responsibilities to protect people from harm, the right to choose frees a woman from official prying into the decisions she makes about her body and her life; it increases her humanity, it makes her a fuller, more independent human being. The human rights agenda gives rise to Western advocacy on behalf of at-risk individuals, as groups like Amnesty and officials at the UN adopt victimised individuals in the developing world and campaign for their human rights to be reinstated; by contrast, real rights emphasise a person’s ability to be a self-advocate, if you like, to make decisions and take actions according to his or her own interests and desires.

In short, where human rights infantilise us, treating us as beings with very basic needs who need our governments, the UN and groups like Amnesty to guard us from others, real rights such as the right to choose, as well as the right to vote and the rights to free speech and free assembly, allow us to live as autonomous adults. Amnesty’s neutrality on abortion was about more than keeping on side with Catholics. It also reflected the human rights lobby’s lack of interest in, possibly even innate hostility towards, traditional rights. After all, a developing world in which people were demanding the right to choose and organise and speak as they saw fit would not need powerful human rights organisations to come and fight its corner. Everything you need to know about today’s problematic human rights agenda is contained in the idea that, according to the Amnesty worldview, it is acceptable for countries to adopt human rights without granting women the right to choose. That is, there can be a ‘human rights culture’ even if there is no free and safe access to abortion; a woman can be said to enjoy human rights even if she does not have basic control over her own reproductive system. Such is the narrow focus of the human rights agenda that you can ‘have human rights’ and yet still be enslaved.


Though Sp!ked is quite left politically to me, I find myself much in agreement with them on this issue. Traditional human rights, such as those Amnesty International focuses on, are important, but they are certainly not sufficient.

The right to make decisions over your own body is generally considered a basic human right, but for some reason, this does not cover women's right to choose. The only reason this is the case, are religious considerations, which has absolutely no place in a human rights' organization.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

very passionate! But about about the defenceless baby's right? What about the baby's right not to be murdered? It's not like we are living in the middle ages anymore, in the UK at least...any woman that has a child will receive support from the state. Once a baby is involved it is no loner just about "the woman's right over her own reproductive system" Hello! there is another person involved, albeit a totally defencless one.

September 22, 2007 6:52 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

I agree that once a baby is involved it changes the equation. Since we are talking abortions and not infanticide, there isn't any babies involved.

It's good that people are supported when needed (here I presume you're talking about both financial and childrearing support), but it's entirely irrelevant to the question at hand.

There is no other "person" involved, defenseless or otherwise. There is a lump of cells inside the woman, but there is no "person" there. So, it is just about "the woman's right over her own reproductive system".

September 22, 2007 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You state that AI's slogan is "Protect the Human." How ironic that they support laws that legalize murder.

January 04, 2011 12:54 AM  

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