WASHINGTON (November 20, 2006) --Deirdre A. McQuade, Director of Planning and Information for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has called on Amnesty International to reject a proposal from some within the organization to abandon its neutral stance on abortion in favor of a policy advocating abortion as a human right.
At a press conference today on Capitol Hill with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life, Ms. McQuade reiterated objections to the proposal that Bishop William S. Skylstad, President of the USCCB, made in a September 15 letter to Amnesty International. His letter can be read at
"Amnesty has traditionally served as a courageous voice for the voiceless and ignored populations," Ms. McQuade said. "It should not now undermine its own mission by, in essence, siding against millions of voiceless human beings. The right to life itself is fundamental. It is the precondition of all other human rights, and its integrity depends on being acknowledged for every member of the human family regardless of race, age, gender, condition, or stage of development."
Ms. McQuade noted that USCCB has worked with Amnesty International on common efforts as diverse as seeking to end the use of the death penalty in the United States, anti-apartheid advocacy in South Africa and opposition to government-sanctioned death squads in Central America.
"If Amnesty International were to assert abortion as a human right, it would inevitably create a rift with its Catholic members and alienate many other persons and organizations for whom the right to life is foundational in the struggle for justice," Ms. McQuade said.
Along with opposition to the proposed change from USCCB, Rep. Chris Smith and 73 other members of Congress have urged Larry Cox, Executive Director of Amnesty International, to maintain the organization's abortion neutral policy or take a position in favor of life.
The complete remarks given by Ms. McQuade at the press conference follow.
Thank you, Congressman Smith, for the opportunity to join you today in speaking out on a proposal from some within Amnesty International that the organization abandon its traditional neutral stance on abortion, replacing it with a policy of advocating abortion on demand as a "human right."
In September the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad, wrote to the Secretary General of Amnesty International expressing alarm at this proposal. He said it would "erode the human rights of the most vulnerable members of the human family: unborn children" and "jeopardize [Amnesty's] excellent record as a champion for human rights."
I am here to reiterate the position of the bishops' conference and to call upon Amnesty International to resist the proposed change for three reasons.
First, the policy change is fundamentally incompatible with Amnesty International's own mission to advocate for human rights on behalf of all vulnerable populations. As Bishop Skylstad wrote, "To abandon this long-held position would be a tragic mistake….diverting Amnesty International from its central and urgent mission."
Amnesty has traditionally served as a courageous voice for voiceless and ignored populations. It should not now undermine its own mission by, in essence, siding against millions of voiceless human beings.
The right to life itself is fundamental. It is the precondition of all other human rights, and its integrity depends on being acknowledged for every member of the human family regardless of race, age, gender, condition, or stage of development.
This principle is not particular to Catholic teaching. It is an insight of the natural law tradition of human rights, held in common by those of diverse religious backgrounds. Many of the great figures who advanced rights for the poor and marginalized also spoke out against abortion, including: Mohandas Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, and most recently, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We find it incomprehensible that these prophets of progress would now have to be seen as enemies of a "basic" human right.
Second, endorsing abortion would deeply divide human rights advocates, jeopardize the collaboration between Amnesty and the Catholic bishops, and impair work for social justice both at home and overseas.
For many years, the Catholic community here in the United States and elsewhere has admired and worked with Amnesty International. Founded by a Catholic layman, Peter Benenson, Amnesty has been a beacon of hope to thousands of prisoners of conscience, victims of abuse and torture. It has been a source of inspiration to millions, including many Catholics who are Amnesty members. Much urgent work remains, work that will be harmed by this unprecedented and unnecessary involvement in abortion advocacy.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has worked with Amnesty International over many years on a range of human rights concerns in our own nation, most recently in our common efforts to end the use of the death penalty in the United States. We have also taken up many issues of common concern internationally, ranging from anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa and opposition to government-sanctioned death squads in Central America, to more recent efforts to end the practice of torture by anyone under any circumstances.
If Amnesty International were to assert abortion as a human right, it would inevitably create a rift with its Catholic members and alienate many other persons and organizations for whom the right to life is foundational in the struggle for justice.
Third, while some may see the proposed policy as advancing the status of women, the reality is that abortion harms women even as it ends the life of their unborn children. In the United States, many opinion polls have shown women opposing abortion in greater numbers than men. Some women who most strongly oppose abortion are those who themselves have lost a child through abortion.
Amnesty's proposed policy change would offer false hope to the women of the world. Abortion offers no relief from the real pressures and injustices that women face. It does nothing to alleviate systemic injustices or provide practical assistance to women and their families.
A strong pro-woman stance would refuse to offer a so-called solution that requires pitting mothers against their vulnerable children. A compassionate response would provide support and services for pregnant women and advance their educational and economic standing in society. It would embrace the truth that women deserve better than abortion.
We urge Amnesty International to reject the proposed policy change so as to remain faithful to its noble mission, preserve its constructive relationships with human rights advocates, and develop a more holistic and compassionate response to women and their families worldwide.