Vatican and Amnesty International in spat

FIRM STAND: Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general. 31/07/07. © Unknown.
FIRM STAND: Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary-general. 31/07/07. © Unknown.

LONDON - Worldwide human rights group Amnesty International will not revoke its new policy backing abortion for women subject to sexual violence, rape or incest despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

LONDON - Worldwide human rights group Amnesty International will not revoke its new policy backing abortion for women subject to sexual violence, rape or incest despite opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

Secretary-general Irene Khan said yesterday that a meeting of Amnesty's international council in Mexico City on August 11 would not endorse or condemn the policy because it was adopted after long consultations with members.

The Catholic Church, which worked closely with Amnesty in the past in campaigns such as the one to abolish the death penalty, urged its members not to support the group, founded by a Catholic to defend political prisoners.

Khan said the new policy, inspired by rapes in war zones such as Darfur, urged governments to provide safe abortions when women conceived after rape or incest or when a pregnant woman's life was in danger.

"The purpose of the council meeting is not to endorse this policy because it already exists," she said, adding the issue might still come up for discussion.

The policy, debated among Amnesty's 2,2million members since 2005, was quietly adopted in April. Last month the Vatican, which considers abortion to be murder, said Amnesty had "betrayed its mission".

Cardinal Renato Marino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said: "If Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organisations must withdraw support."

Early this month, Bishop William Skylstad, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the decision "undermines Amnesty's long-standing moral credibility" and divided members, including Catholics active in it.

"I call on Amnesty's international council to reverse the decision."

Khan said the London-based group, which previously had no official stand on abortion, had debated the change for two and a half years and made a decision consistent with its long-standing campaign against violence against women.

"Having a policy doesn't mean that we are in favour of abortion as a right, that's not the position we are taking," she said. - Reuters

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