How should we respond to the news that Amnesty International is now mounting a global campaign to push for the introduction of abortion in Ireland?
Shock? Disappointment? Confusion?
Probably a mix of all of those emotions, particularly if, like me, you were once a supporter of the group that developed a reputation for protecting the rights of the most vulnerable in society since its foundation in 1961 by Peter Benenson.
I’ve since parted ways with Amnesty, and I’m not alone, because there are many who simply cannot accept the contradiction in terms when on the one hand Amnesty fights for the rights of one group of human beings, but at the same time is happy to put its power and resources behind a campaign that seeks to end the lives of unborn children.
At this stage it is impossible to consider Amnesty as anything other than a de facto campaigning group that is seeking to introduce abortion in Ireland. As such, it is promoting only one side of the debate, the side that supports abortion.
The organisation launched their report with a press conference, presentation to an Oireachtas Committee and a string of media appearances by high-profile Amnesty representatives who arrived en masse to criticise Ireland’s human rights record. We were also told in no uncertain terms that Ireland has been chosen as a focus for Amnesty’s campaigns for the next year and that the organisation will “target” us until we capitulate and hold a referendum to repeal Article 40.3.3, the Equality provision in the Constitution which guarantees the equal right to life of women and their unborn children.
I have to say, my first reaction to this is amazement – amazement at the arrogance of Amnesty, which seems to think it can ignore the fact that the people of Ireland are Sovereign, and are not to be dictated to by this well-funded and powerful group. A majority of the people inserted Article 40.3.3 into the Constitution. It’s reasonable to say that many thousands of people are alive today because of that provision, which meant that families had to take a little longer to decide whether to have an abortion in the UK or elsewhere and as a result they had time to reflect and change their minds, giving a chance at life to a cherished family member.
My initial amazement soon turned to surprise and dismay as I read the report however, for I realised that there is no room in Amnesty’s brave, new campaign for women who have the temerity to reject abortion, or indeed regret it later on.
Amnesty’s report runs to over 100 pages, yet there is no room for the voices of women who regret their abortions. Why not? Doesn’t Amnesty think these women matter, that the Irish public deserves to hear their testimonies before they make up their minds on this complex issue? Why didn’t Amnesty’s Irish branch insist that some of the stories from the Irish group Women Hurt, be included to give the perspective of women who say that their abortion led to extreme sadness and distress for the woman involved. One woman spoke about her experience as follows:-
“I was wracked with guilt and anger that nearly destroyed me and sent me down a path of self-destruction, wrecking every relationship I had. Slowly I also lost my self-esteem.”
Why doesn’t Amnesty think this kind of testimony is important? Those feelings of devastation following abortion are more common than many people believe. The whole concept of “abortion regret” is simply dismissed by many who support abortion, yet for some women the feelings of sadness and regret are unbearable.
Take Emma Beck. Emma was an artist who aborted twins. She never recovered from the abortion procedure and she died by suicide. Emma’s mother shared her story in the hope that she would be able to inform other women before they made the decision.
In Emma’s suicide note, she directly referenced her abortion, saying:
“I see now that I would have been a good mother. I died when my babies died. I want to be with my babies.”
Wasn’t there room for a paragraph telling Emma’s story in that 100-page report?
At the inquest into Emma’s death, the GP said that it is clear that abortion can have a profound effect on a woman. Why aren’t Amnesty prepared to talk about this “profound effect”? The testimonies of the members of Women Hurt, and women like them, are vitally important to the debate in Ireland.
This is not a debate about whether we trust women. It’s a debate about whether we trust abortion.
Aside from the psychological trauma that women can suffer from abortion, Amnesty ignores the fact that the abortion procedure itself is often not even physically safe.
Why wasn’t Amnesty to the fore in demanding answers from Marie Stopes? It’s not good enough for them to ignore this case when they are planning to launch a huge campaign to introduce abortion here just a few days later. They can’t pick and choose the aspects of the abortion debate that they want to get involved in. Unfortunately, that’s been the modus operandi of Amnesty in this area for far too long, and it has to stop.
BABIES BORN ALIVE AND LEFT TO DIE
For example, why has Amnesty never addressed the horrific human rights abuse of babies being born alive in so-called “botched abortions”, and left in die alone in hospitals. These are babies who survive the abortion procedure. They were not intended to survive, so they are not given any medical care an eventually they die.
Most people have a hard time even believing this happens, which is understandable given the fact that we’re dealing with newborn babies who die while medical professionals stand by and do nothing. But there were 66 examples of this in one year alone in the UK. The deaths of these babies are detailed in the “Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, Perinatal Mortality 2005: England, Wales and Northern Ireland. CEMACH: London; 2007″. Some of the details have been removed from the online version but here is the quote from page 28 of the written report:
“Sixty-six of the 2235 neonatal deaths notified in England and Wales followed legal termination (predominantly on account of congenital anomalies) of the pregnancy i.e. born showing signs of life and dying during the neonatal period. Sixteen were born at 22 weeks’ gestation or later and death occurred between 1 and 270 minutes after birth (median: 66 minutes). The remaining 50 fetuses were born before 22 weeks’ gestation and death occurred between 0 and 615 minutes after birth (median: 55 minutes)”
If you notice, reference is made to the fact that some of babies died “between 0 and 615 minutes after birth”. 615 minutes. That’s over 10 hours. This means that one or more baby survived the abortion procedure and struggled for life for over 10 hours before succumbing. Where was Amnesty when this report was released? Why didn’t they call for an investigation into how the human rights of these babies were being infringed in such an unimaginable way?
This isn’t just a feature of abortion in the UK. It has been well-documented in Canada also where over 400 babies survived abortion and were allowed to die over a ten year period. This matter has been raised with members of abortion lobby groups like International Planned Parenthood, who have had little to say about it, as this video shows:
It’s too bad that Amnesty International didn’t speak up for the human rights of these abandoned babies, or we might get more than blank stares and non-answers from the people who insist that abortion is so badly needed.
BABIES DIAGNOSED WITH LIFE-LIMITING CONDITIONS IN THE WOMB
Much of Amnesty’s recent campaign is geared towards the introduction of abortion where babies are diagnosed with life-limiting conditions or terminal illnesses in the womb. Here again, their report is so hopelessly one-sided that the Irish public are afforded no opportunity to make an objective decision.
For example, there is no room for stories like Baby Grace McBreen. When Grace’s mother was pregnant, she was told that there was no chance that her baby would survive. The family were given so little support and encouragement that they stopped attending their hospital and decided to take their chances.
Grace was born however and she has recently started learning to swim, despite the doctors’ assurance that she would not survive to birth.
Why is there is no mention of Grace’s story in Amnesty’s report? No mention either of the motion passed at the AGM of the Irish Medical Organisation earlier this year, which called on the Government to provide proper palliative care to families who are facing this diagnosis.
Why doesn’t Amnesty lend its voice to this kind of campaign – one that offers hope and support to families at their most vulnerable time? After all, isn’t that what Amnesty is about, providing hope in the darkest hour? If Grace McBreen’s family had given up hope, she wouldn’t be alive today. It’s too bad that Amnesty seems to be prepared to let these families go it alone.
In countries where abortion is available for life-limiting conditions, it very quickly becomes the only response, and Amnesty knows this. In the UK, if parents receive a poor pre-natal diagnosis, they are handed an NHS booklet there and then which details what is involved in the abortion procedure.
It doesn’t have to be that way in Ireland. Amnesty could have given a voice to One Day More, a support group for families whose babies are diagnosed with life-limiting conditions. These families are continually insulted in Ireland by the terms used to describe their babies – terms like “lives not worth living”, “incompatible with life”, “abnormal” and “corpses”. One Oireachtas member went so far as to say that they are “simply a piece of flesh with no sensation, no capacity for sensation or any form of feeling”.
Imagine speaking in that way about somebody’s precious child who is suffering from a life-threatening illness while still in the womb.
Imagine a so-called human rights organisation ignoring such insensitivities, ignoring those families altogether.
Why didn’t Amnesty give a voice to Cliona , a member of One Day More? I imagine she would willingly have talked to them about her son who was diagnosed with a life-limiting condition in the womb. He lived for 17 minutes and during that time, she named her baby boy who was loved for every minute of his life. She held him, kissed his face, baptised him and later she buried him and grieved for him. If asked, she could have told Amnesty that those 17 minutes were some of the most precious she had ever had and she would remember her son John Paul and could now grieve properly. It’s surprising and disappointing that Amnesty didn’t make any effort to give a voice to these stories, particularly when they might give hope to families experiencing similar trauma.
Instead, Amnesty focuses on abortion above anything else, even uplifting stories like that of Eliot Hartman Mooney, who showed that even the shortest life can bring the greatest joy to a couple:-
RAPE AND INCEST
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the report is Amnesty’s handling of the question of whether abortion should be allowed in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape. Amnesty introduces this very complex subject, and then completely ignores the testimonies of women who have continued with their pregnancy in those cases. This is quite simply unforgivable.
The report contains no call for stronger sentences for rapists in Ireland; instead the sole focus is on providing a law that would end the life of an unborn child who bears no guilt for the crime itself. In doing so, Amnesty has moved so far away from its original goals that it is barely recognisable. In no other situation does it advocate ending the life of an innocent human being to rectify any other crime.
Why does Amnesty so easily ignore the people who have conceived through rape and are living in the world today – people like Ryan Bomberger and Pam Stenzel? Would the authors and advocates of this report look these people in the eye and tell them that they do not have the right to be alive, that their human rights are worth less because of a crime committed by someone else? This is the message sent by Amnesty’s campaign and they cannot shy away from it.
Once again, the report ignores the stories of those women who became pregnant as a result of rape and chose to keep their babies. Their stories are detailed in a book called “Victims and Victors”, and they would have helped enormously to give a more balanced view of this very complex subject.
Yet Amnesty chose to ignore women like Kathleen, who said in this book:-
“I, having lived through rape, and also having raised a child ‘conceived in rape’, feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape or incest. I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.”
Or Helene, who said:-
“Abortion does not help or solve a problem – it only compounds and creates another trauma for the already grieving victim by taking away the one thing that can bring joy.”
Women like Sharon deserve to be heard:-
“I think that rape victims with pregnancies are discriminated against because people think you’re nuts to have a baby by a man who raped you. We are looked upon as being liars, or stupid.”
No-one is suggesting that these women have not been through trauma, that they don’t need more support than women who have become pregnant in other circumstances. But by ignoring their testimonies and advocating abortion in the case of rape, Amnesty is acting as if their stories are of no value. And that is unconscionable.
FROM HOPE TO DESPAIR
Traditionally, the name “Amnesty” has been synonymous with hope. For the families of prisoners of conscience or victims of torture, the message from Amnesty has always been: Stay hopeful; our campaigns will secure the release of your loved one. The very word “Amnesty” means “pardon”.
That’s why it is all the more devastating that Amnesty has adopted such a hardline abortion campaign. There is nothing remotely hopeful about abortion. Even those who support its introduction describe it as a “necessary evil”. Abortion is life-ending, not life-saving. For Amnesty to advocate or support it means that they have shifted their focus and become lost in an almost unimaginable way.
They are now posing as a human rights organisation which makes value judgements on human lives. Amnesty is now telling us that some lives are worth protecting and some are not. But Amnesty cannot have it both ways. It cannot claim to be an impartial defender of human rights while ignoring the blatant breaches of human rights that are caused by the abortion procedure.
When I was studying in UCD, I was a member of the college branch of Amnesty. To me, it was the most natural thing in the world to want to lend your voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves. The organisation’s slogan inspired many to join: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”.
That remains true today, and yet at a time when we find ourselves living in a world where human rights abuses are hidden in a darkness more sinister than ever before, Amnesty has lost its way and this is something that should cause us all to be deeply alarmed.