Amnesty International supports abortion rights for rape victims

And, man, is the Vatican pissed.

Published August 14, 2007 3:23PM (EDT)

According to the Independent, Amnesty International is set to uphold its April decision to support abortion rights for rape victims -- and is drawing strong criticism from the Vatican as a result.

To be more specific, what's really bothering Roman Catholic leaders is Amnesty's recent decision to add certain types of abortions to its list of basic human rights. To quote from Amnesty's Web site:

-- "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 case 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."

Wait -- so Amnesty is saying that if a woman is gang-raped in say, Darfur, Sudan, resulting in an unintended and/or life-threatening pregnancy, she has the right to decide to have an abortion? Surely that goes against Amnesty's supposed goal of undertaking "research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity" (to quote its statute). Protecting rape victims -- where do these Amnesty people get off?

At least that's what people like Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, seem to be saying -- he has accused Amnesty of having "betrayed its mission" and is threatening to encourage all Catholics to boycott Amnesty unless it reverses its policy. (Perhaps the Vatican would be so kind as to then offer up St. Peter's as a day-care center for rape victims' babies.) Amnesty's deputy general secretary, Kate Gilmore, responded by saying, according to the Independent, "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."

Now, despite my own pro-choice stance, I can understand people's opposition to abortion. But in cases like this, I think it comes down to the lesser of two evils. Are you going to let a rape victim have an abortion? Or are you going to stand up for the fetus' "right" to be born to a mother who resents the very fact that it was conceived, might have a sexually transmitted disease, and is likely to be unable to support her child financially? And looking at the bigger picture, does it make sense for the Catholic Church -- which has been a major backer of Amnesty International since its founding by a Roman Catholic in 1961 -- to withdraw support from an organization that has done so much good work (not to mention earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977) because of this one particular stance?

If you feel strongly -- in either direction -- here's a link to Amnesty's contact page.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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