Amnesty International has finally admitted it has adopted a new policy supporting abortion. After pro-lifers exposed the organization’s secret adoption of a pro-abortion position in early May, AI officials admitted May 9 that the human rights organization would begin lobbying for abortion to be decriminalized globally.

Widney Brown, senior policy and campaigns director, told Reuters that the board of AI agreed on the policy change in April. The human rights lobby group had previously held a position of neutrality on abortion, although it has always opposed forced abortion. However, over the past year, AI has worked to expand its definition of “sexual and reproductive rights.”

While the agency has said it is not supporting abortion as a human right, but simply addressing “particular circumstances” surrounding rape situations or endangerment to women’s health, in fact the policy calls for a moratorium on all criminal penalties against abortion. “‘Decriminalization’ means the removal of all criminal penalties (including imprisonment, fines and other punishments) against those seeking, obtaining, providing information about or carrying out abortions,” the document states.

The new policy puts AI, the largest human rights organization in the world, at odds with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child “needs special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

Brown denied that Amnesty had attempted to keep the new policy a secret. “There’s simply no reason for us to ‘publicize’ policy issues,” she said. In a document outlining the new policy to members, which was buried on a members-only, restricted-content page of AI’s U.S. website, Karen Schneider, the chair of the Sexual and Reproductive Rights Working Group, said in a letter to volunteer leaders: “It is very important to be aware of the following: this policy will not be made public at this time. As the IEC (Amnesty International’s International executive committee) has written to all sections, ‘There is to be no proactive external publication of the policy position or of the fact of its adoption issued.’ This means no section or structure is to issue a press release or public statement or external communication of any kind on the policy decision.”

Multiple international organizations and religious leaders objected to the agency’s proposal to begin championing abortion rights after it was first publicized two years ago. Reports from Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have suggested widespread opposition to Amnesty’s proposed abortion advocacy among grassroots supporters. Britain’s Pro-Life Alliance says that Amnesty International United Kingdom surveyed 1,800 of its members and found just 35 per cent in favour of AI supporting efforts to legalize abortion abroad, whereas 53 per cent were opposed to the policy.

Rachel MacNair, vice-president of Consistent Life, said her organization is looking for other human rights groups with which to work. “We are hoping to also find some alternatives for those student groups who no longer wish to affiliate with AI, but would like to continue their good work,” she says on CL’s website.

Parts of this story appeared May 3 and May 11 at and are used with permission.