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Catholics for a Free Choice Urges Amnesty UK to Listen to World’s Women, Vote to Support the Decriminalisation of Abortion

March 22, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC—On March 23-25, members of the United Kingdom branch of Amnesty International will vote at their annual conference in Edinburgh on including access to safe, legal abortion in the list of rights that Amnesty supports and advocates for globally. The vote in Edinburgh is the latest in a consultation by Amnesty International to gauge the will of its members on the issue; until now, the organisation has maintained a neutral stance with respect to abortion access. The situation of women and the voices of women around the world who are suffering under repressive abortion laws have led Amnesty International to consider changing its position to one that affirms women’s freedom and protects women’s health.

Some conservative Catholics have created a sniping campaign to suggest that the move to support abortion rights would be unpopular among Catholics. This is simply not true. Despite their shrill voices, the majority of Catholics support access to safe, legal abortion and family planning services. More than half of Catholics in Great Britain believe that abortion is acceptable if the fetus has serious defects. The situation is similar the world over. In Italy—the most Catholic nation in the world with 97 percent of the population identifying as such—74 percent of the population supports the availability of the abortion drug RU-486. In the traditionally conservative country of Bolivia, 55 percent of Catholics believe that abortion should be permitted under certain conditions. In the United States, more than three-quarters of Catholics disagree with the bishops’ position that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. When asked about rape and incest, Catholics are even more supportive of access to safe and legal abortion.

Also compelling is the basic fact that women who do not gain access to safe abortion services can incur serious illness, injury and even death following complications that can result from a lack of legitimate providers and fear of prosecution and incarceration.

CFFC president, Jon O’Brien, said,

“Amnesty International has a long and distinguished history fighting against human rights’ abuses the world over. By approving this move, Amnesty will be able to support other groups in situations like the X-Case in Ireland, when a 14-year-old girl who threatened suicide if she was not allowed to have an abortion was detained by the Irish courts to prevent an abortion. AI will also be able to assist in cases like the one in Mexico, when a 13-year-old Paulina was raped in her own home by an intruder and then refused an abortion by local officials. Catholics in favor of social justice may in all good conscience vote for the move to include abortion rights in Amnesty programs so that the organization can provide support when all other avenues to justice have failed.

“Increasingly, human rights advocacy groups the world over are realizing that a woman’s freedom is intimately tied to her ability to control her reproductive health. Be it the UK, Ireland or Mexico, all women deserve access to safe, legal abortion. Amnesty International UK has a great opportunity to affirm that reproductive rights, including the right to end a pregnancy through abortion, are a vital part of the human rights canon.”

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