Amnesty International is a very well-respected campaigning organisation for human rights, identifying and exposing torture and human rights abuse around the world. It benefits enormously from being always seen to be on the side of compassion, humanity, justice, fair play. Virtually everyone would support its aims and passively or actively support its campaigns.
Governments of all hues have earned the attention of AI at times and there are scarcely any governments immune, whether it be caused by torture of republican prisoners in the Castlereagh barracks in Belfast, or the extrajudicial incarceration of muslims in Guantanamo Bay.
But those same people who would normally back AI, get rather touchy when the subject of rights is brought closer to home with the issue of abortion rights. Many are quite wrongly claiming that AI is breaking its principles by ignoring the rights of the unborn in favour of the rights of the woman.
See for example Catholic Times.
They talk in terms of the child and mother when in fact they should be referring to the embryo and woman. The woman is not the mother until a child is born. The difference is crucial.
Rights in human society are afforded to individuals by virtue of them being people and not simply because they consist of human tissue. Rights are afforded to individuals because they are valued as people in society and they cannot be people as unborn embryos.
Therefore we cannot talk of human rights for embryos any more than we can for stem cells. (There are of course some catholics who argue for rights for stem cells as proto-children displaying a woeful ignorance of basic biology.)
The catholic church, of course, is opposed to abortion because it believes there is some mythical entity that appears at the point of conception called the soul. It doesn't trouble them that there is not the slightest evidence in support of this belief, but they are happy to use it to prevent a woman having control of her own body, her own fertility, and by implication, her own future. Even rape victims are expected to suffer the continued violation of their bodies.
Rather than being inconsistent for AI to deal with human rights from the point of view of the woman, it is absolutely consistent. It is the catholic church which is hypocritically talking about compassion, at the same time as condemning millions of women who do not have adequate access to contraception, to unwanted pregnancies.
By basing human rights on a belief in mythical entities, the catholic church makes the exercise of rights dependent not on the collective strength of those socially demanding them, but on the whim of a single allegedly infallible human being. And it's not just the catholic church - this argument applies to all those who seek to root ethical principles in religious dogma.
Ethics is a socially pragmatic practice. It changes with the times, with historical events, with the rise of science, with an understanding of psychology, with the more detailed understanding of the processes of reasoning. Wherever religion infects ethics with a dependence on insubstantial, mystical beliefs, the experts in the case become those in authority within that religion, whether it is an imam, an archbishop, a rabbi, or a priest or a pope. By claiming additional moral rights, they distort the process of justice and rational ethical argument. This is a fundamental political abuse and Amnesty are being completely consistent in its ethical stance.
The irony will doubtless be missed by those catholic critics of Amnesty who are rather selective about their choice of rights.