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Amnesty International, Abortion and Conservative Logic

A conservative journal uses a rather specious Weekly Standard article about Amnesty International’s decision to report state abortion policies to castigate liberalism. Here is my response (which I wrote as a comment on their website).

No one but communist dictators and liberals take anything said by Amnesty International (AI) seriously: Nothing in your piece here supports this claim.

The difference between those two, of course, is that communist dictators know it’s all propaganda but liberals actually believe it. Straw Man: please specify which liberal you are speaking of. Also, as someone who has actually lived in two communist regimes, I have heard many people mention Amnesty International reports as influential both on people and government officials.

Israel and the US are singled out for human rights violations but AI gives Iran and Cuba a pass: Wait, what about these reports on Cuba and these reports on Iran ?If your argument is simply that Amnesty posts more information about US and Israel, then you are probably right. Why? Because US and Israel are democracies with free presses, and where more public information is available. But to turn that around and say that it “gives Iran and Cuba a pass” is ludicrous and illogical.

“AI has a dirty little secret”. Wait, if it’s a dirty little secret, why did they issue a press release about it?
Something cannot be a dirty little secret if it is posted on the web.

“new policy that condemns as a human-rights violator any country that does not allow broad access to abortion or punishes abortion providers.” First, the Weekly Standard was being a tad unfair to AI here. The simple fact that it was mentioned on the website doesn’t imply endorsement. It sounds like it was being discussed by members as a potential policy before a final decision was reached. Hey, that’s what policymaking and goal-setting is about. You start with ideas, debate it a bit and make a platform. Here is a case where you have to look at the public statements of AI and not second-hand characterizations of the backroom discussions (which happen to be available on the members-only portion of the website).

Second, I don’t know about this issue in particular, but I’m guessing that the intent behind the policy is to start reporting incidents and state policies, not to start defending abortion as public policy. I personally have no problem with an organization reporting on this (when I did a search on AI’s website, I found 190 articles about the subject of “forced abortions” , so it hardly be accused of ignoring the abortion issue).

Finally, as someone raised Catholic and who has lived in two countries with significant human rights abuses, let me say: you don’t know what you’re talking about! AI has received criticism for its advocacy positions occasionally (most recently with its Gitmo paper), but its credibility on reporting is high when compared against other human rights NGO’s. (By the way, the State Department country human rights reports also have a lot of credibility internationally despite the potential for US politicians to interfere).

“AI’s official policy is that any country which does not accept the practice of killing unborn babies is a human rights violator.” You need to cite evidence here. It sounds as though you are grossly oversimplifying here. So when is REPORTING to be equated with CONDEMNATION? Let’s look at that press release again:

Defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations, Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right (my emphasis) and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion.

Finally, I don’t want to get too involved in abortion (because it is one of those “symbolic issues” which the Republican Party has used recently to rally people to elect war presidents). Your commentary falsely implies that it is an example of “moral relativism” to espouse any position defending abortion. The truth, of course, is never that simple. There are degrees of difference between abortion-on-demand (such as what is practiced in China), and abortion under extenuating circumstances (rape, incest, etc).

Foes of abortion frequently portray reproductive rights advocates as “relativists” or “morally bankrupt.” In fact, a large number of advocates are deeply principled (and sometimes even religious) individuals. Many philosophers and ethics professors have endorsed policies accepting of abortion. You cannot simply label positions opposite your own as “moral relativism.” That is just lazy.

The problem is that abortion frequently involves a series of competing values and moral imperatives. For example, should moral decisions be left to the individual? or should the state have the right to make moral decisions for you (no matter how intrusive and coercive)?

Mario Cuomo’s speech to the Catholic bishops illustrates the dilemmas that policymakers face in attempting to make policies. If a policy which condones abortion has the effect of reducing its overall number, you can’t automatically judge it as wrong or immoral. Conversely, some have allege that abortion has increased under the Bush Administration –partially as a result of its social policies. One can’t simply call one policy “pro-life” or “moral” if it has the effect of increasing the number of abortions.

In summary, I find the commentary on this piece to be illogical and disturbing. By the way, I would recommend Non Sequitur as a site to help write political articles without falling into many of the traps I have noted.

Update: the original poster has written a response with more concrete examples.  (mostly taken from David Horowitz’s conservative watchdog site). I wrote random responses on the same page. One issue came up. In this age of Internet reporting, how badly do we need an international human rights clearinghouse? Many of the accusations are embroiled in controversy and politics (i.e., Israel vs. Lebanon); the success of organizations like AI depend pretty much on their credibility in assessing harm and placing blame.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Hamous 7/18/2007, 8:57 pm

    Many of those so-called traps were not traps at all, but laziness on my part. That has been partially rectified in the comments. In summary, I find it illogical to suggest that AI is unbiased in their reports on human rights violations, as is demonstrated by an analytical review of the data in my further comments.

    But the basic reason for my post, after you read through all my deliberate hyperbole, was the irony of a human rights organization labeling countries that do not allow abortion on-demand as human rights violators. Obviously that irony is lost on the liberal mindset.

    Hey, but I did enjoy the beer and conversation last night. We’ll have to do it again!

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