Cascadia Catholics

A left-leaning Catholic discussion forum.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Amnesty and Human Rights for All

Amnesty International and the Catholic Church are currently embroiled in a sad, yet I suppose inevitable, clash over abortion and the context of Human Rights.

It seems inevitable to me, at any rate. So long as we continue to debate over what exactly constitutes "human life" we can never fully ground our approach to Human Rights.

Recently, Amnesty International (AI), which I have long and proudly supported (see link at this blog), has redefined its approach to abortion. This drew a quick and negative response from Rome, as one might well expect.

Responding to criticism from Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, AI defended its changed policy, stating that they would continue protecting "the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations..." "Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion."

See Article Here

In the article, Kate Gilmore, Executive Deputy Secretary General of Amnesty International, attempts to clarify AI's position. "Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right but for women’s human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations."

Well, I'm not sure this clarifies very much. I wish it did. I wish I knew exactly what AI was proposing, or addressing, by this change.

Monday, the President of the US Conference Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, responded to AI's statement. The entire text of the letter can be found here.

In part it reads:

For many years, the Catholic community in the United States and elsewhere has admired and worked with Amnesty International in its efforts to advance the cause of universal human rights. Founded by a Catholic layman, Peter Benenson, Amnesty International has been a beacon of hope to thousands of prisoners of conscience and victims of abuse and torture. In this regard AI has been a source of inspiration to millions of supporters, including the many Catholics who are members. Much more urgent work remains, work which we believe will be harmed by this unprecedented and unnecessary involvement in the abortion debate.

I hope this promotes dialogue, before people start pulling their funds from an amazing and wonderful organization that has done so much good in the world. I urge you to be part of that dialogue, as a beginning. You can write to Amnesty Internation USA here:

Contact AI


At 7/07/2007 9:57 AM, Anonymous Joseph Drake said...

Dear Nina,

I emailed AI with a kindly worded criticism, asking them to rethink there statements. I will write on this on my own blog and try to do a trackback to yours, if I can figure out how to do that. You know much more about AI than I do.

The main point I made with AI, was that while I agree that women should be free of oppression, I thought a state had the right to gaurd the moral values of a community in a humane way. I will ponder this balance and pray on it, then write on my blog. If I get it wrong, come over and kick my ass.

At 7/07/2007 3:48 PM, Blogger beth said...

Is AI endorsing abortion? or saying that they will not oppose its legality?

Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both favored legalization of prostitution even though they thought prostitution evil. Their thinking was that “greater evils” would result if prostitution were banned and this outlet for aberrant sexual energy were unavailable.

In so doing, St. Thomas Aquinas said, the “wise legislator” is imitating God who, though all powerful and supremely good, tolerates certain evils lest greater evils ensue.

Similarly, even if you think abortion is immoral you can promote keeping it legal since greater evils, multiple deaths of women (especially poor women) from botched abortions would follow.

Those who oppose abortion but do not wish to impose that view on the entire polity have support in Catholic teaching.

At 7/09/2007 10:31 AM, Blogger _alyosha_ said...

Hi Beth,

I would not be too quick to support this kind of argument from St. Thomas and St. Augustine, as I think it is dangerously slick. In Catholic teaching, we well know that the ends do not justify the means, and this argument seems perilously close to that kind of justification.

Of course, so do the "just war" theories and death penalty permissions and the like, so who knows?

I do understand completely your views in the last paragraph of your post, but I've never been able to accept it. Society does have the obligation to protect children and vulnerable adults. If someone decides this "X" is not a human being, and I think this "X" is a human being, I cannot, in good conscience, permit "X's" destruction.

Catholic teaching may insist that individuals follow even an erroneous conscience, and perhaps the person obtaining an abortion incurs no guilt, but I incur it the moment I permit the action, since my conscience tells me quite another thing.

People are free to sin. We should still counsel people against it, but they have that liberty. But then when should society step in? To my mind, only when the lives of others are threatened by such actions.

At 7/10/2007 12:18 PM, Blogger beth said...

Hi Alyosha - Like you say, it's pretty slick territory...

Isn't the bottom line of Catholic faith (teaching et al) that all life is sacred?

If we believe that life emmanates from God and can only be recalled by God, then of course, any kind of killing - abortion, capital punishment, war - must be prohibited.

Catholic teaching, according to Thomas and Aquinas, really is that certain evils are tolerated less greater ones ensue. THat's where "just war" comes from.

Why is "just war" and capital punishment tolerated but not legalized abortion? Or vice versa - why is abortion wrong, but not capital punishment or war?

In my mind they are all of one cloth. We can't be sincere in our efforts to end abortion if we are not equally involved in ending the death penalty.

At 7/10/2007 3:10 PM, Blogger _alyosha_ said...

Well, I'd have to find myself in a peculiar role, to argue against your views, since largely I agree with you - and am a strong advocate to abolish the death penalty. But the church's teaching on "just war" and the death penalty are from a self-defense perspective. One may kill another in self defense. And by that line of reasoning, I suppose one could say that one could abort a fetus with similar justifications. Unless a woman's health and life are at risk, I can't quite make that leap. But many do. I don't know. Abortion is the most difficult of all civil/moral questions out there, in my mind. But to error on the side of life is what often clinches it for me. I have to oppose it.

At 7/10/2007 7:31 PM, Anonymous joseph Drake said...

Life news reports the U.S. Catholic Bishops are asking people to refrain for now from supporting AI and to contact them. Democracts for Life has asked people to contact AI.

I believe that to equate laws against abortion with human rights abuses is dangerously close to disallowing the state any power to enfoce the moral concensus of the community. What about the communities right to a moral concensus?

Finally I have recently read of a tribe in the Amazon through with all membership was by adoption. Abortion, birthcontrol, etc were universal practices. Infants were dispised, and new members we gained from other tribes. I'm not sure if that is still the case or not. But the characteristic that developed in the tribe is a general additude of selfishness. To tolerate legally abortion is to tolerate contempt for children and genreral selfishness in society. How can it be a right to move down that road?


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