Senior bishop quits Amnesty in row over abortion

LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic bishops has ended three decades of support for Amnesty International after the group backed a woman’s right to abortion if her life is threatened or she has been raped.

The bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans, who has been a member of Amnesty for 31 years and wrote a prayer for the group’s “protect the human” campaign, said Amnesty’s membership would be split and its work compromised by its abortion stance.

Despite sustained criticism from the Catholic Church, Amnesty decided at its annual meeting in Mexico last week that it would work to “support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women’s access to abortion ... when their health or human rights are in danger”.

The church, which considers abortion to be murder and says it can never be justified, had urged Catholic organisations to withdraw support for Amnesty -- a London-based group founded in 1961 by a Catholic layman -- if it did not change its stance. The Vatican accused Amnesty of betraying its mission.

“Very regretfully, I will be ending my 31-year membership of Amnesty International,” Evans, who joined Amnesty in 1976, said in a statement on his Web site. It was not clear exactly when the statement was issued.

“I remain deeply committed to Amnesty’s original mandate: to work for freedom for prisoners of conscience, an end to torture and the death penalty, and fair trials for all.”

Evans warned that Amnesty’s decision to support women’s access to safe and legal abortion would “almost certainly divide Amnesty’s membership and thereby undermine its vital work”.

“Among all human rights, the right to life is fundamental,” he said. “Commitment to work to ‘protect the human’ can only be deeply compromised by any support for access to abortion.”

Amnesty’s Secretary General Irene Khan told Reuters in an interview last month that the group, which previously had no specific policy on abortion, had debated the issue among its 2.2 million members over the course of 2-1/2 years.

The new policy had been prompted by rapes in war zones such as Darfur, she said, and the decision to adopt it was consistent with a long-standing campaign against violence towards women.