As Words Of Choice found out recently, Amnesty International apparently does not consider reproductive choice to be a human right. Cross-posted with kind permission:
Words of Choice learned a painful lesson this spring: Amnesty International, one of the most important human rights organization worldwide, does not support reproductive rights.
Amnesty International USA singled out Words of Choice at the First Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival, and insisted that a speaker be present at Words of Choice events to announce that Amnesty did not support the messages of the play (no representative had seen it or spoken with us).
Amnesty’s position on abortion, we later learned, is exceedingly narrow. It supports a woman’s right to make a decision about pregnancy termination only if she is a victim of rape or incest, or if the life or health of the mother is at stake. It also opposes prison for women who have abortions and supports post-abortion care for botched abortions.
I’ve delayed telling this story because it hurts. Here are the details:
In late April, Words of Choice set out to participate in the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland, which was organized by Tom Block, a visual artist. Words of Choice signed up in October 2009; over 150 artists and arts groups joined in.
At the beginning of the year, Words of Choice blogged about the promise of the event, fusing social justice and the arts.
Dates were set, money raised, rehearsals held, venues scheduled, travel plans made. After months of planning, Words of Choice arrived in Silver Spring in April. That afternoon, Block sent an email:
An Amnesty International representative will be onsite at both of your events to state at the beginning that the views of Words of Choice do not represent the official position of Amnesty International, as officially, Amnesty takes no position on abortion rights.
It is either this or cancel your event.Thomas Block
This was unusual because no Amnesty representative had seen the play, and no other artist that we know of received a similar demand. Nonetheless, we welcomed participation, especially since Words of Choice is meant to open up discussions about reproductive rights.
Our first event at the Human Rights Art Festival was a Creativity Workshop at Pyramid Atlantic art center. Folabi K. Olagbaju, (above,left) Director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of Amnesty International USA, arrived while we were in process. He described, at length, Amnesty’s position — supporting the legal access to abortion only in cases of rape, incest or grave threat to life or health.
Olagbaju writes that Amnesty’s current policy enables it to:
1. Support women who seek a safe, early medical termination of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life or health is at grave risk.
2. Urge governments to make medical care available to women who suffer complications from unsafe abortion; and
3. Oppose imprisonment or other criminal penalties for abortion against women or their providers.
Olagbaju described the adoption of this policy, dating only to 2007, as a step forward, despite the fact that Amnesty’s policy is approximately equivalent to an abortion ban proposed in South Dakota in 2008 (and voted down).
Olagbaju said in person and by email that our events would not have been cancelled.
Note: Here is the specific wording of AI’s position on abortion. I have always considered their work to be of the utmost important and their organization to be a significant ally on women’s human rights issues. While I continue to believe that they do valuable work, this incident and their stated position is extremely disturbing and I will not promote contributing to their work until that stand changes.
AI takes no position on whether abortion is right or wrong, nor on whether or not abortion should be legal. The particular right AI works to protect is the right of all women to be free of any form of coercion, discrimination or violence as they make and put into effect informed decisions regarding the regulation of their fertility.
AI’s sexual and reproductive rights policy emphasizes access to contraceptive services and to sexual health information so that the risk of unwanted pregnancies can be reduced.
4. Does AI promote “abortion as human right”?
No. Some media reports and individuals have claimed that AI promotes a “human right to abortion.” This grossly misrepresents AI’s policy on sexual and reproductive rights.
5. Is it accurate to say that Amnesty International has a neutral position on the abortion question?
AI takes no position on whether abortion is right or wrong. AI has long opposed forced abortion, sterilization and contraception in all circumstances. AI currently does not take a position on laws regulating the termination of pregnancy other than in cases when pregnancy results from rape, sexual assault, or incest or where it poses a risk to the woman’s life or a grave risk to her health.