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Can anyone point me to the official statements of Amnesty and Cardinal Martino discussed in Paul Lauritzen's post below? Not that I don't trust media accounts!

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Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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That nemesis of the bishops Catholics for a Free Choice may deserve a second look from us. its reputation is better than its other nemesis Opus Dei. is on the side of women for reproductive rights? How to frame the issue may be the point.

Here is a link to an AI site on this issue: the link at the bottom of that page for more.

Paul, thanks for that info.My sense is that some conservative Catholics might find the clarification of AI's position full of weasel words:Defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations, Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion."Amnesty Internationals position is not for abortion as a right but for womens human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations," clarified Kate Gilmore.As a more liberal Catholic, I am still somewhat uncomfortable with their position, because it may be the thin edge of the wedge.But, as I noted in the post below, none of the literature we've received from AI has focused on liberalizing abortion laws anywhere or otherwise promoted abortion.The focus remains on raising awareness of terrorisim, sexual and otherwise, and tyranny.In my view, the position of AI is a warning to prolife proponents to be aware that where sexual terror exists, so does the risk of women seeking abortions.

Jean..since you seem to have followed AI activities, do you have any info on what went into changing their position? What kind of internal discussion went on and/or how they make such changes in policy? Thanks.

I can guess. The use of rape as a weapon of persecution has risen exponentially in the last decade and is now common worldwide. It is not the "spoils and plunder of war" model of rape. It is the "let's show this person/group that we mean business by raping his wife/their women" variety. It's easier to prohibit abortion with a sort of "do the crime do the time" mentality that is common to pro-life groups in the West, when most women seeking it can be said to have "volunteered" to become pregnant. But to prohibit it when pregnancy is inflicted as an act of retribution and humiliation on a woman, or because a woman works in the sex trade and has no other economic options turns the concept of human rights on its head. Women are humans. If complex and intractable social and political problems are such that they have little or no choice about getting pregnant they should at least have the choice of staying pregnant.

Amnesty Internationals statement of policy isnt a proposed law, but a statement about human rights issues. They have long opposed forced abortion, and now have produced a carefully phrased statement outlining a limited set of circumstances in which they see access to abortion as a human rights issue for women, worthy of their protective efforts. Their concern is with hard cases: rape, incest, grave risk to maternal life or health. Some may see their support of decriminalization of abortion as questionable, even though they do accept the necessity of legislation defining gestational time limits. Considering the social and health consequences of making abortion illegal, many Catholics, world-wide, would no doubt see AIs position on decriminalization as the better course. I doubt that many Catholics who support AI will be deterred from doing so in future by statements like those of Bishop Martino. They will read the AI statement and decide whether it deserves their support.

The logic of the AI change is clear enough. My query really raises the political/moral nature of the decision to change their position and their calculations about its impact on their over-all human-rights work. Bishop Martino will not be the only one to object; there will be several heads of state along with other religious figures.I'm hoping Jean can shed some light on this.

In regard to Cardinal Martinos remarks, MR. Reid (above) asked if what the Cardinal said would have been alright if> the Cardinal had prefaced his remarks with a little compassion. I don't know> if it would have helped, .but it would have been nice if he could have shown> AT LEAST as much sympathy for a woman's plight as he did for Saddam Hussein> when he commented on a picture of Saddam having his teeth examined by his> captors. (See below)>> . Isn't it funny how a picture of a man who's just having his teeth looked at> can evoke such sympathy in a fellow male, and that same man cannot show> understanding and sympathy for women who have been brutally raped, both> physically and mentally in a barbaric fashion. I do have a suggestion for> Amnesty International. They should send the good Cardinal a very graphic> picture of a grubby and disheveled woman being brutally raped by a man (or> men) or a picture of a woman painfully dying of AIDS, bugs on her face and> lips, and her children crying around her. Cardinal Martino seems to need> visual aids to stir up his inner compassion> This is the news story that tells of the Cardinal's great compassion for a> cruel killer.>>> Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 by Reuters>> Vatican Cardinal Says US Treated Saddam 'Like a Cow'>> by Philip Pullella>>>> VATICAN CITY - A top Vatican official said Tuesday he felt pity and> compassion for Saddam Hussein and criticized the U.S. military for showing> video footage of him being treated "like a cow.">> "I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his> teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he> (Cardinal Martino) said.>> "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy> blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he said in answer to> questions about Saddam's arrest.>> Martino was referring to the videotape released by the U.S. military> which showed a grubby, bearded and disheveled Saddam receiving a medical> examination by a military doctor after his capture in an underground hole> Saturday.>> Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2003 by Reuters Copyright 2003> Reuters Ltd>

Throughout history, the problem has always been that certain people have not been considered fully human and thus deserving of life ... whether it was slaves in the ancient world or Jews in Nazi Germany or the unborn today, whenever a group of people is not recognized as fully human, the result is always an atrocity. Since this is a Catholic website, stop and think--exactly how many abortions for rape or therapeutic abortions or abortions for any of the reasons usually listed for defending so-called choice do you honestly think that Jesus would condone? Yes, Jesus would demand better social and finanancial and spiritual support for the affected women--and might call on people to adopt the children, take in the mother, etc. ... and he would also forgive the woman who had an abortion ... but can you honestly say that in any of those situations he would agree that the abortion was necessary?

I have a better question. How many wars do you think Jesus would have endorsed?

No wars ... but that's no answer to the question of abortions, which must also be none if you're being honest.

Margaret, I don't have any inside info on AI's abortion statement. I have noticed that AI is focusing more on violence against women and children in the AI magazine. This coincides with reports from women in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Darfur, Sudan--places where rape has routinely been used as a form of terrorism and act of war against people of all ages and both genders.The last issue of AI mag featured domestic violence against Native American women. That story focused chiefly on the lack of law enforcement in remote areas and the efforts of women to try to help others find shelter. It did not mention unwanted pregnancies or abortions.My main concern is that the statement (that women should have access to safe abortions when pregnancies result from war/terrorist activities) could be construed at some point as a mandate for AI to lobby for liberalized abortion laws.But I am no less concerned by Catholics who would elect to focus condemnation on AI, which, as far as I know, has not helped a single woman obtain an abortion (and, as was noted above, has objected to forced abortions), when there are many organizations that have taken a far more "pro-abortion" stand.

You see Robert, that's a problem that some of us have -- the question of personal morality and what Jesus would do only arises when it coincides nicely with restricting the liberty and autonomy of women. Hmm. Sounds like Jesus is being used as something of a convenient excuse for maintaining a status quo that heavily disfavors female opportunity and advancement. And I don't agree that Jesus would never accept the necessity of abortion, and certainly at a minumum where, for instance, the alternative is death to both the mother and the child.

Well ... that's an interesting take on Christianity, to say the least, Barbara! After all, I doubt very highly that Jesus would ever agree that the only alternative is death for the mother and the child (since he would certainly urge people to take the necessary steps BEFORE it reached that point to leave open other options). But it is quite interesting to see that for some of the Commonweal mainstay responders, when the issue involves their perception of women's rights--instead of the Iraq war or the prison at Gitmo--you can take a very "real world" position, as if there are cases when ends justify the means (if the means are abortion and the ends are the liberty and autonomy of women) that has nothing to do with Catholic tradition. I have been chided in the past for not basing my posts on catholic tradition, so I'm curious--but not holding my breath--to see how many posters point out your own digression ...

Peggy Steinfels--From various media stories I've read, the AI policy documents you inquired about are available to a members-only restricted area of the AI website. The following website, however, has created a link to a pdf compilation of the policy documents: may also be possible to go directly to the pdf policy documents by using the following URL:

Robert, you can address the "tradition" of the handling of the sex abuse problem. These are the same people who have been brutal towards women. is to the everlasting shame of the bishops that secular law had to correct their impaired morality. Incredibly, their bad attitude remains. Maybe if we reformed the bishops we can figure out the abortion dilemna.

Bill,I'll leave it to you to discuss the sex abuse crisis (as for me, that issue alone has driven me so far from the church that I hardly even consider myself catholic anymore). But what always amazes me is that those who do seem to focus on "our catholic tradition" when it suits their purpose (opposing the Iraq war or the Gitmo detentions) blithely ignore that tradition when it conflcits with other liberal dogma such as abortion. The unborn child is a human being deserving of life and protection regardless of how he or she was conceived or what the bishops did, didn't do, said, or didn't say.

Barbara,(I'll take you at your word and expect no response and this will likely be my last word on it as well) ... I could not AGREE with you more on your third point. I feel the church hierarchy has completely undermined its own positions by its own actions ... but then I have never made any argument based on supposed church authority or the authority of the current church leadership. Perhaps you and others have simply been butting heads against that leadership for so long you mistakenly assume that anyone who disagrees with you (on, say, abortion or the Iraq war) must be a pay-pray-obey, pre-Vatican II Catholic ... but it isn't always the case. Consider, for instance, the very liberal columnist (and non-Catholic) Nat Hentoff who is also quite pro-life.

Thanks to William Collier for the second link on his comment above. It is a series of documents on the "letterhead" of Amnesty Inernational USA, really memos to members/volunteers to explain the change and advice on how to explain it to others. Reading these last night, three further questions come to mind: 1. Was this an initiative of the American branch of Amnesty? 2. Have other branches joined in (or by accident are we just seeing the American documents rather than French, British, etc.)? 3. The document distinguishes between decriminalizing abortion (which this policy favors) and legalizing it (on which it declares itself neutral). This is a very fine line and AI's explanation of maintaining the line is not wholly convincing.My next query really is: Whatever the merits of AI's new position, have they created yet another litmus test in the abortion imbroglio that will keep some people and/or groups from working with them, and will be yet another argument for governments (including our own) to oppose their human rights work?

Robert, three issues (and then I won't be responding):1. Some of us have simply gotten bone tired of begging for a little quid for our quo and have moved on. So your arguments against us that proceed from our putative hypocrisy have lost resonance. We are the net losers, historically speaking, and I don't see our losses being made up in my lifetime.2. It's not the Church's theological reasoning I object to, it's the Church's drop dead position that its theological reasoning should be imposed on all women (and people), Catholic or not, through coercion by the secular state. I simply cannot abide this. 3. What Bill said. What the bishops (and the Pope) have yet to figure out is that their failure to see or care about or address (take your pick -- they answer might be different depending on the circumstances) the evil going on in their midst that we call the sex abuse schandal has seriously compromised their authority to define sin, evil and even virtue. They don't seem to get that.

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