Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Abortion as a Human Rights Issue

For forty years Amnesty International (AI) has worked to improve human rights around the world.

Here is the purpose of AI as stated on their website:

Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights.

AI’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

In pursuit of this vision, AI’s mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination, within the context of its work to promote all human rights.

The question has now arisen of how abortion fits into an agenda of protecting and sustaining basic human rights.

Christianity Today (CT) recently reported that AI has adopted a new policy on abortion. AI’s position can be read on their website. Among other things it states,

Violence against women violates women's rights to life, physical and mental integrity, to the highest attainable standard of health, to freedom from torture and their sexual and reproductive rights. Upholding human rights, including women's sexual and reproductive rights is essential to preventing and ending gender-based violence. The human rights of girls and women are also at stake whenever gender-based violence against them goes unchallenged and wherever survivors are denied access to the full range of remedies to which they are entitled.

AI’s position also says,

Denying women access to reproductive health services is a violation of their reproductive rights. Denying them access to lifesaving obstetric care is a violation of their right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In addition, AI affirms that

Forced abortions or sterilizations carried out by family planning officials or others acting in an official capacity violate reproductive rights and are grave violations of physical and mental integrity amounting to torture.

Not surprisingly, some evangelicals, Roman Catholic leaders, and others are concerned that AI has taken a position that supports abortion rights in some situations.

It is good, though, to note that AI also stands opposed to forced abortions and judges such actions to be a violation of basic human rights.

I personally appreciate the efforts of AI to focus attention on human rights abuses around the world. Information is a necessary prelude to action and without AI we would not have the information we need. I know that some Americans get upset when AI issues reports indicating that we here in the land of the free and the home of the brave don’t always live up the high ideals that we espouse (Why does it shock Americans to hear that we are prone to sin, too? Why do we think that we should not listen to the prophetic critique of an “outside” or neutral organization?), but I suspect that we need to listen a little more closely, for our own sake.

The CT article noted that this new stance had been adopted by AI “partly in response to mass rapes in Darfur, Sudan.” While that is probably true, it should be noted that there are many other places in the world where mass rape, often with resulting pregnancy, is used as a weapon in many ethnic conflicts and civil wars. The question of whether a woman so raped and impregnated should have access to reproductive health services including abortion certainly sounds like a human rights issue to me.

Of course, the basic human rights of children, including those who are unborn, is a major concern, also.

This issue should remind us of why simple cut and dried answers to the abortion question simply will not suffice. Should the basic human rights of the unborn be protected, beginning with their right to come into the world? I would say “Yes” because I believe that life begins at conception; I would also say that personhood begins at birth but that’s a discussion for another day. But should not the basic human rights of a woman in a war-torn region who is subject to rape employed as a weapon of war also be protected? Again, the answer is “Yes.” Her human rights have already been violated by the rape; surely that violation should not be compounded by the requirement that she give birth to a child who would become another victim of the war.

We Christians should love and care for both women and children. The ultimate solution is to bring an end to those conflicts that produce those rapes and resulting pregnancies.

Unfortunately, not enough Christians or American politicians are interested in the conflicts that produce such egregious violations of human rights. Shame on us.

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