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NEWS | Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Amnesty Malta will not campaign for abortion rights

james debono

Amnesty International’s decision to back access to abortion in cases of rape and incest will not have any impact on the work of the Maltese branch of the global human rights watchdog.
According to AI Malta’s spokesperson Jean Pierre Gauci, Amnesty did not have countries like Malta in mind when backing access to abortion rights.
“The decision was motivated by the situation in countries like Sudan, where women are systematically raped by militias and face death by stoning if they commit adultery,” Gauci said.
He added that AI Malta will not campaign for the introduction of abortion in cases of rape and incest in Malta, where together with Ireland, is the only EU member state which bans abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Gauci also made it clear that AI has not taken a stand on whether abortion is ethically right or wrong. “Amnesty International’s position is not for abortion as a right, but for women’s human right to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations.”
AI Malta did not participate in the meeting in Mexico where a decision to back access to abortion in certain cases was taken, and which caused consternation in the Catholic world.
Local groups like Malta’s AI branch, which has only been active for a few years, do not have a vote. The AI’s stand was met with votes in favour as well as against.
The Vatican responded with vehemence to the decision. The head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, slammed Amnesty for “betraying its mission”.
“To selectively justify abortion, even in the cases of rape, is to define the innocent child within the womb as an enemy, a ‘thing’ that must be destroyed,” Cardinal Martino said, according to a Reuters report.
He also called on Catholics to stop giving donations to Amnesty International.
But replying to the Vatican, Amnesty International firmly stood by the rights of women and girls to be free from threat, force or coercion as they exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.
“If the cardinal had been in Darfur and stood between (rape victims) and the stones being thrown at them, let him then talk again about whether or not Amnesty has the integrity to stand firm for human rights,” Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary-general of Amnesty International said.
She reiterated Amnesty’s solidarity with the victims and survivors of human rights violations. “Our policy reflects our obligation of solidarity as a human rights movement with, for example, the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community.”
Responding to a statement from the Vatican, Amnesty International contradicted the claim of Cardinal Martino, that Vatican funding for Amnesty International would cease.
“We have not accepted funds from the Vatican and do not accept funds from any other states in support of our work against human rights violations,” Gilmore said.
Amnesty insists that the global body is not promoting abortion as a universal right. The organisation still does not express an opinion on the rights and wrongs of abortion.
AI claims its sole concern is that of defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations.
It is also strongly opposed to forced abortion but favours the decriminalization of abortion, to ensure all women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion.
“We are a movement to protect citizens including the believer but we do not impose beliefs. Ours is a movement dedicated to upholding human rights, not specific theologies. Our purpose invokes the law and the state, not God,” Gilmore said.
Amnesty encouraged the Catholic Church not to turn away from the suffering that women face because of sexual violence and urged the Catholic leadership to advocate tolerance and respect to freedom of expression for all human rights defenders, just as Amnesty International will continue to defend the freedom of religion.
Amnesty’s position is in line with that of various bodies like the United Nations committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which favour legal therapeutic abortions and access to abortion when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

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