For 20 years, author and researcher Rachel MacNair was a member of Amnesty International, the world's largest human-rights organization.
Then she wasn't. Then she was. Now she isn't.
Why the on-again/off-again relationship? In a word: abortion.
Amnesty International had earned MacNair's respect, as well as that of lawmakers and activists across the spiritual and political spectra, by reporting on and campaigning against human-rights abuses around the world.
MacNair, a Quaker, directs the research arm of Consistent Life, a coalition that advocates what it calls a "consistent ethic of reverence for life" that can be summarized generally as pacifist, anti--death penalty, and pro-life. She joined Amnesty in 1985 and kept her membership after the group expanded its agenda to include opposition to the death penalty.
For decades, Amnesty had no official position on abortion except that it publicly opposed forced terminations. But last month, the group sent a communiqué to members announcing a new and not-yet-public policy: support for the decriminalization of abortion for women and "their providers." MacNair resigned her membership when Amnesty's abortion discussion first surfaced two years ago. Early this year, she rejoined the group so that she could fight the new policy at the group's national conference in March. But Amnesty officials rebuffed her. She resigned again-and she's urging Consistent Life's 200 member groups to do the same.
"One can make a case that executions are contrary to human rights," MacNair said. "One can't make the case that killing unborn children is somehow helpful to their mothers."
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agrees: "I think the new policy will divert Amnesty from its founding mission of defending the voiceless, into advocacy of a procedure that many of us see as a violation of the most basic right, the right to life."
The congressional Bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus also opposes Amnesty's new policy. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has worked with the group for years and says Amnesty has long faced pressure from other groups that view abortion as a "human right." With 1.8 million members worldwide and a four-decade track record of pushing governments to act, Amnesty's recent capitulation may add more pressure on governments to allow abortion in the name of "human rights."
Internal Amnesty documents obtained by WORLD stress that the group does not view abortion as a human right, but believes it should be decriminalized and made available to women "in cases of rape, incest or when a woman's life or health is at grave risk." The group cites Darfur and the Congo as places where rape is used as a "weapon of war." Amnesty reports that an estimated 250,000 women have been raped during four years of armed conflict in the Congo. Many, the group says, have suffered "debilitating health conditions" after obtaining unsafe illegal abortions.
Many pro-life Americans support legal abortion in cases of rape and incest. But Amnesty's internal documents raise questions about a broader embrace. For example, while Amnesty "recognizes that some state regulation of access to abortion is justifiable," the group opposes the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal partial-birth abortion ban. The reason: The group opposes "criminal sanctions for women and their providers." If Amnesty opposes criminal penalties for an ostensibly rare, late-term procedure, what meaningful "state regulation" would it support? (Amnesty did not respond to an interview request from WORLD by press time.)
Other statements trouble Doerflinger and others who have long made common cause with Amnesty: The new policy, Amnesty documents reveal, is aimed at working "toward enabling women to decide whether and under what circumstances to engage in sexual relations"-a statement that seems to counter longstanding international human-rights accords that say abortion should never be used as a family-planning method.
Though the group's new policy is not yet official, Amnesty is already losing members. More than 600 people have signed a Consistent Life petition voicing opposition, adding comments like those of CL member and longtime Amnesty contributor Stephan Melancon: "I will, of course, discontinue all contributions and encourage my family and friends to do likewise should Amnesty make this PC move in support of abortion 'rights.' Consistency demands respect for the unborn."