June 21, 2006

Vatican official warns Amnesty against abortion move

By Sebastian Tong

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty International will be discredited if it pushes for the decriminalization of abortion worldwide, a senior Vatican official said on Wednesday.

London-based Amnesty, founded by Catholic lawyer Peter Benenson in 1961, has begun consulting its 2 million members around the world on whether it should drop its neutral stance on abortion and start pushing countries to repeal laws that make abortion a crime.

"I have great esteem for Amnesty but doing this, they cut off their hands. I hope they don't do this because if they do, they are disqualified as defenders of human rights," Cardinal Renato Martino told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Singapore.

Martino, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said Amnesty would lose support from Catholic activists if it defined abortion as a human right.

"When they say 'reproductive rights', they mean abortion. Do they defend the rights of everybody? No! Not of the unborn because the unborn will be killed," he added.

Amnesty has traditionally said that there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international law, but the charity's Canadian, New Zealand and British branches have now voted in favor of including a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in future campaigns.

"There is a discussion among our membership, but there is no decision. We might be looking at several years before there is one," said James Dyson, an Amnesty spokesman in London.

Tensions between the Holy See and the world's best-known human rights group have increased since 2000 when Amnesty lent its voice to groups pushing for the United Nations to include the right to legal abortion in a declaration on women's rights.

Amnesty then accused the Vatican of entering into "an unholy alliance" with a number of Muslim and developing countries to stop abortion from being enshrined in international law.

"Human rights follow if the human being is at the center of all concerns. We can collaborate with anyone who shares this belief," Martino added.

The cardinal is on a three-day visit to Singapore as part of celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Southeast Asian city-state and the Holy See.