Amnesty’s Travesty of Ireland and Maternal Mortality (‘Amnesty’s Travesty Of Human Rights’, Part V)

by Peter D. Williams

This week, we have seen that Amnesty International (AI) has ignored the fact of the humanity of the unborn child, and their right to life as human beings. Instead, they have chosen to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion based on a false understanding of how abortion relates to maternal health and life, and following the international abortion lobby’s abusive exploitation of the tragic or difficult cases of individual women to achieve their inhumane ends. Perhaps the most egregious example of their inhumane efforts however, is where they have most recently and particularly tried to end protections for unborn children in Ireland.

In a recent amplification of their ‘My Body, My Choice’ campaign, which includes a focus on abortion, AI’s Ireland branch launched a propaganda video for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which protects the right to life of unborn children. To a black-and-white backdrop of a ruined rural church and graveyard, and with the voiceover of actor Liam Neeson, the video claims that Ireland is ‘haunted’ by a ‘ghost of its past’. This ‘ghost’, they allege, lies in a law “written for a different time” which brings “death and suffering” to Irish women.

Accompanying this as if in illustration, Amnesty Ireland put another video online featuring celebrity comedian Graham Linehan (the writer of the popular cult TV show, ‘Father Ted’) and his wife, in which they give their account of how they conceived a child with anencephaly (where the child has developed without a brain, and would not survive after childbirth). This prompted them to have an abortion in the UK, where they live. The fact that this would not have been an option in Ireland is something they find abhorrent, and so they have talked about their tragic case in order to put moral pressure on Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

The Linehans’ tragic and difficult situation is, of course, an especially hard case. One can only imagine how genuinely harrowing it would be to go through a pregnancy only to have your child die when born. Yet the emotional trauma of such rare cases, similar to that of miscarriage or stillbirth, does not change the fact that the unborn are human beings with inherent dignity who are worth of protection. To allow the killing of one human being because it serves the emotional interests of another, would be to render the absolute principle of the right to life of innocent human beings something so contingent as to be practically useless.

Only if certain rights are inviolable can they work to protect all vulnerable people, and only if we gloss over that fact can we allow our emotions in sympathising with the Linehans – as any decent person would – to overcome what our reason tells us about the necessity of integrity in applying rights protections. Yet surely Amnesty agree with on this point, for their appeal to the Linehans’ case contradicts their official position of wanting abortion decriminalised only for hard cases. What relevance would the sad situation of Graham Linehan and his wife have to their aims if all they were asking for were the availability of abortion for conception after rape, and a threat to the mother’s health and life?

To what else, then, could Amnesty Ireland be referring when it mentions the “death and suffering” of women? It could well be the case of Dr. Savita Halappanavar, which as we saw was cynically exploited by the Irish abortion lobby in such a way as to make a travesty of the facts of her condition. It could also be the purported need for legal abortion to meet the healthcare needs of women, which as we noted is based on a series of misunderstandings of maternal-fetal ‘vital conflicts’ and how problems like ectopic pregnancy can be treated in a system that affirms the rights of the unborn.

More generally, however, the appeal to the “death and suffering of women” in abortion advocacy applies to the consequence of illegal abortion. As Amnesty claimed when they changed their policy in 2007:

“The lack of safe, legal abortion services is recognised as one of the leading causes of preventable maternal death worldwide. The Millennium Development Goals include a goal aimed at the reduction of maternal mortality as key to the eradication of extreme poverty. According to the Millennium Project, over half a million women die every year due to pregnancy related reasons. Some 70,000 of those deaths are attributable to unsafe abortions. The human rights treaty bodies have repeatedly addressed unsafe abortion as a right to life concern”.

This argument is one of the most hackneyed and false in the abortion lobby’s arsenal. For one thing, studies have confirmed that prohibiting abortion does not lead to an increase in maternal mortality rates (the statistical means by which deaths from illegal abortions are measured). A 2012 study undertaken on behalf of the Chilean Maternal Mortality Research Initiative (CMMRI), Women’s Education Level, Maternal Health Facilities, Abortion Legislation and Maternal Deaths: A Natural Experiment in Chile from 1957 to 2007, analysed 50 years of maternal mortality data (1957-2007) from Chile’s National Institute of Statistics, and found that since Chile enacted a law protecting the right to life of unborn children in 1989, the maternal mortality rate had dropped by 70%. This was a continuance of a decline in the overall Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) in Chile of 93.8% between 1957 and 2007. The study found that maternal education and quality of health care affected a decline in maternal mortality, not abortion availability.

Similarly, according to the latest WHO statistics on maternal mortality (see Annex 19. Trends in estimates of maternal mortality ratio (MMR, maternal deaths per 100 000 live births), by country, 1990–2015, pp. 92-98), countries with strong right-to-life protections for unborn children, such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Poland, Chile, and indeed Ireland, have all seen falls in their maternal mortality rates since 1995, and compare favourably to their neighbours in the same region. Meanwhile, countries with little to no such protections compare less favourably with regards to maternal mortality than their neighbours with better protections. Compare, for example, the relatively lower maternal mortality rate 30 per 100,000 in Sri Lanka (which has profound restrictions on abortion), compared with the 258 deaths per 100,000 births in Nepal, which has one of the de facto most permissive abortion systems in the world.

The same is true within states as well as between them. An American study published in the Journal of Public Health Policy in 2012, which conducted in 23 states by researchers from Stanford University, showed that less permissive legislation was associated to lower rates of complications due to abortion. Meanwhile, a study published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year comparing the maternal mortality of 18 Mexican states with less permissive abortion legislation and 14 states with a more permissive law, found that between 2002-2011 those with the more restrictive law typically had lower maternal mortalities than those that had fewer protections for unborn children.

The converse of all this is that making abortion legal does not necessarily reduce maternal mortality, as a WHO editorial made clear last year when it admitted that “illegal abortion is not synonymous with unsafe abortion”, conceding that its historical measure of ‘safe’ abortion – legality – simply was not sound. What actually makes a difference, as the studies above also demonstrate, are the quality of general maternal healthcare and emergency obstetric care, as well as basic qualities such as female education and literacy, clean water and sanitation, and lower levels of domestic violence.

What is the relevance of all this to Amnesty’s Irish campaign? Simply that what we learn from the world more largely applies very particularly to Ireland. Studies have repeatedly shown that when we compare the over more than 40 years of legal elective abortion in the UK to relatively abortion-free Ireland and Northern Ireland, both Irish jurisdictions show more favourable data on maternal and neonatal health than the British. Whilst there have been some reports suggesting that Irish rates approach British levels, this has not been attributed to botched illegal abortions, but mostly to pre-existent conditions in the women, or ‘coincidental causes’. Other studies have suggested that this is due to increasing Caesarean section rates in Ireland.

Regardless, what we can certainly say is that, contrary to what Amnesty have suggested, there is not a shred of serious evidence that Ireland’s constitutional protection of unborn children brings ‘death’ to Irish women. International and Irish evidence points to countries that have laws safeguarding babies in the womb from being destroyed in abortion have better maternal mortality rates, and those mortalities that exist are better dealt with by improved medical care for mother and child, education, and basic sanitary conditions. Not abortion.

We see then, that these arguments fail to justify even the decriminalisation aims of Amnesty. Yet this does not seem to be their ultimate argument. Their campaign to repeal the Irish Eighth Amendment is called ‘My Body, My Rights’, a phrase that communicates precisely the idea of a ‘right to abortion’ they claim not to assert, rather than a mere insistence on allowing abortions in extreme situations.

This is the ultimate Amnesty Travesty: their ostensible moderation for only wanting abortion under certain very rare circumstances seems to be a fig-leaf for the fact that they have given themselves over to a pro-abortion agenda that entirely contradicts their basic human rights philosophy. Until Amnesty turns back to the ethic of human dignity that should form the basis for their entire moral enterprise, recognise the humanity and right to life of unborn children, and advocate instead for the humane alternatives to abortion that truly safeguard the health and life women and their babies, it will have failed to truly fulfil its mission to ‘protect the human’.


This post is part of the ‘Amnesty’s Travesty of Human Rights’ series, and is cross-posted on the Blog of the Life website as part of our joint #AmnestyTravesty campaign. Please go to and sign the petition!

Amnesty’s Travesty of the Savita Tragedy (‘Amnesty’s Travesty Of Human Rights’, Part IV)

by Peter D. Williams

We saw yesterday that Amnesty International (AI), following the example of the international abortion lobby, has used false arguments about women’s health to justify their campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion worldwide. Specifically, they abused the ‘Beatriz’ case in El Salvador to illustrate the supposed need for legalised abortion in order to save women’s life and health. As fallacious as this was, it is mirrored in an even higher profile case that has already been raised as a great cause célèbre for removing protections for unborn children in Ireland.

On the 21st of October 2012, an Indian dentist who was working in Ireland, Dr. Savita Halappanavar, presented at Galway University complaining of back pain. She was advised physiotherapy and sent home, but returned a few hours later complaining of a “dragging sensation” in her body. The next day, her waters broke. Given a scan, which heartbreakingly showed a fetal heartbeat, it was prognosed that she would inevitably miscarry, and she was informed of this. Warned of a risk of infection, she was given antibiotics.

On the 23rd, Dr. Halappanavar asked her consultant, Dr. Katherine Astbury, for a ‘termination of pregnancy’. That is to say, she wanted her baby (whom she knew had a poor prognosis) to be removed from her, and so the miscarriage that would have been causing her so much distress, to be brought to a quick conclusion. Dr. Astbury allegedly replied to her that “in this country it is not legal to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of poor prognosis for a foetus”, and that since a fetal heartbeat was present and her life not at risk, it was not legally possible to carry out a termination. Dr. Halappanavar was upset by this, but allegedly also told by the Midwife Manager that a termination could not be carried out because Ireland is “a Catholic country”.

Over the next five days, the worst happened. On the 25th, she started to shake with cold, went into toxic shock, and died at 1:09am on the 28th.

Her death became a major news story because her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, who had been with her at the hospital, reported her denied request for a termination and the alleged reasons given for such a denial. Abortion lobbyists seized the opportunity to make a connection between this refusal and her death, asserting the one caused the other, and that if only abortion were legal and accepted, Dr. Halappanavar would still be alive.

Partly in response to the outrage caused by media reporting of the case, a year later the Irish Oireachtas (Parliament) passed the ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013’, which codified into law the legality of abortion where pregnancy is said to endanger a woman’s life, including through risk of suicide.

Despite all this, an appreciation of the evidence (from the subsequent inquest, panel findings, and report) shows the death of Savita Halappanavar was in no way due to her being refused abortion.

As we noted on the last post, it is debated amongst bioethicists whether ‘terminating pregnancy’ by removing a baby from the womb prior to viability is the same ethical situation as abortion, but crucially such a procedure is allowed by the Irish system in emergency situations. As section 21.2 of the Irish Medical Council’s Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners states:

“During pregnancy, rare complications can arise where a therapeutic intervention is required which may result in there being little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”

In any case, Savita was not apparently asking for this because she thought it would save her life. Rather, she wanted to expedite the tragedy of her miscarriage. Similarly, in denying this, the staff were not putting a moral and legal injunction above saving her life, but simply following normal medical protocol, by which an abortion would have been seen as an unnecessary surgical procedure, especially since it was believed that her child had a small but significant chance of survival, and such an intervention would have carried its own risks.

What the evidence actually shows is that Savita died from a progressively worsening sepsis, which came from E.coli bacterial infection that entered her bloodstream from her urinary tract, and was antibiotic resistant. Whilst it is not clear that she could have survived this, the inquest ruled that ‘medical misadventure’ (failure to look at blood tests, and to recognise, monitor, and manage her infection/sepsis) took place. In no way has unavailability of abortion been identified as the cause of her death. Indeed, as Dr. Hema Divakar (President of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of Dr. Halappanavar’s native India) stated regarding her assessment of the situation:

“Delay or refusal to terminate the pregnancy does not in itself seem to be the cause of death. Even if the law permitted it, it is not as if her life would have been saved because of termination… Severe septicaemia with disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a life-threatening bleeding disorder which is a complication of sepsis, major organ damage and loss of the mother’s blood due to severe infection, is the cause of death in Savita’s case. This is what seems to have happened and this is a sequence which cannot be reversed just by terminating the pregnancy.”

The bottom line is that the reason why Savita Halappanavar died was because she was given insufficient care by the medical professionals who were looking after her. At no point would an abortion have saved her life. Yet the abortion lobby chose, combining ignorance with cynical opportunism, to abuse her story to their own inhuman ends. This effort continues even now, after the full evidence has been made public.

One of the more disgraceful tactics of the abortion lobby around the world is to take difficult or even tragic cases of women who suffer difficulties in pregnancy, and exploit them to their own ideological ends. Amnesty International did not start this particular example, but it is one that their supporters are willing to lazily (if not dishonestly) repeat in order to achieve their goals. It is a falsehood that needs to be firmly and consistently corrected.


This post is part of the ‘Amnesty’s Travesty of Human Rights’ series, and is cross-posted on the Blog of the Life website as part of our joint #AmnestyTravesty campaign. Please go to and sign the petition!

Amnesty’s International Travesty Of Maternal Life & Health (‘Amnesty’s Travesty Of Human Rights’, Part III)

by Peter D. Williams

As we have seen, Amnesty International (AI) is able to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion worldwide because it ignores the humanity and right to life of unborn children. This deliberate ‘ignore-ance’ of an entire swathe of the human family allows them to find access to abortion, at least in certain circumstances, a matter of human right. By deleting the unborn from the equation, they find this centrally in two rights: the right to health, and ironically enough, the right to life.

As previously noted, Amnesty claims that “restrictive abortion laws and policies” deny women “access to safe abortion services where continued pregnancy threatens their lives or health”. Since then, to “promote non-discrimination and the right to health are fundamental areas of AI’s mission”, they believe decriminalising abortion must also be part of their advocacy.

Yet even considered on their own, these arguments simply do not fit with reality, nor do they lead to a necessity to decriminalise the killing of unborn children. Neither medical reality, nor specific examples that Amnesty and abortion lobbyists have brought up work to justify their case. Abortion, if by that we mean direct feticide (the destruction of an unborn child in her mother’s womb) is never necessary to save a mother’s life or safeguard her health. No condition can be alleviated by attacking and killing an unborn baby. It may, however, be necessary to end a pregnancy for some medical reason, and sometimes it can also be necessary to perform actions that might have the side-effect of harming the unborn child. If a woman experiences an ectopic pregnancy, for example, the pregnancy will kill her if allowed to continue. Or, if a pregnant woman has cancer, chemotherapy that risks killing the unborn baby might be necessary to save her life.

Yet these examples do not constitute abortion. Abortion involves the direct intention to kill the unborn child, and this need not be true of treatments that end pregnancy. This is because of a medical ethical principle called ‘Double Effect’. If a pregnant woman goes through, say, chemotherapy to treat cancer, the intention is not to kill her child, but to destroy a tumour. If her unborn child dies, then this is a foreseen but unintended side-effect of the treatment, and thus not an abortion. If an ectopic pregnancy occurs, then a ‘salpingectomy’ (the removal of the fallopian tube where the pregnancy is taking place) can be affected. Since this involves treating the pathologised organ, and not intentionally killing the gestating baby, again the death of the unborn child is a foreseen but unintended side-effect of the procedure. It also then, is not an abortion. Consequently, neither chemotherapy for pregnant women, nor salpingectomy for ectopic pregnancy, are banned in countries that legally protect unborn children.

The only controversial aspect of this issue comes when a child needs to be removed from the womb. After viability (officially, 24 weeks), when the child can survive outside her mother’s womb, this is no problem. Before that point, however, removing the child from the environment they need to live can indeed be seen as equivalent to an abortion. Bioethicists argue over this point, but in many countries such as Chile and Ireland, pre-viable induction can take place to save the life of the mother.

What may often happen is that doctors wait until the child reaches viability, and then ethically end the pregnancy by removing the baby through caesarean section. This is seems to be what happened with a cause célèbre that Amnesty and the international abortion lobby took up in 2013. A young El Salvadoran woman had signified for the sake of anonymity as ‘Beatriz’, presented for an abortion because she was suffering from lupus (a chronic immune system disorder) aggravated by kidney failure, and thus had grave health concerns. It was argued that her life was put at risk from the pregnancy, and that the longer the pregnancy went on, the less likely doctors would be able to treat her.

What added to the tragedy of this situation was that her child was anencephalic (lacking a major part of the brain, skull, and scalp), and thus when born would only live for a few hours. Her child at the time was also below the twenty-four week point of viability, when the baby can – all other things being equal – survive outside the womb.

Her case was taken to the Supreme Court of El Salvador, which refused to authorise an abortion. This led to a campaign from Amnesty and abortion lobby groups for her to be granted feticide as ‘treatment’. Permission was given, however, by the Ministry of Health when Beatriz was 26 weeks pregnant for a caesarean section, when her child could be incubated and given fluids. As expected, Beatriz’s baby daughter died five hours after the procedure, but Beatriz was able to recover and later left the hospital.

Despite its exploitation by the international abortion lobby, and whilst it involved an ethically difficult and very sad situation, this case did not prove the necessity of legalised abortion. The sheer fact that Beatriz survived thanks to an ethically correct and legally sanctioned series of medical decisions proved both the legal and medical systems in El Salvador capable of balancing correctly the welfare of women and the right to life of their unborn children.

There is no need therefore to decriminalise abortion to save the lives, or health, of pregnant women. Much of the worst cases and reasons given by Amnesty for decriminalising abortion do not function at all as justifications for violating the dignity and rights of the child in the womb.

No human rights argument for abortion then on the grounds of life or health is ultimately workable or consistent. You simply cannot uphold the authentic rights of one person by denying those of another. Such arguments are also, however, moot, as they do not properly reflect or deal with the reality of situations to which they refer.


This post is part of the ‘Amnesty’s Travesty of Human Rights’ series, and is cross-posted on the Blog of the Life website as part of our joint #AmnestyTravesty campaign. Please go to and sign the petition!

Amnesty’s Travesty of the Human Right To Life (‘Amnesty’s Travesty Of Human Rights’, Part II)

by Peter D. Williams

The basis that Amnesty International (AI) gives for its campaign to decriminalise abortion practice is not only internally incoherent, but in absurdly avoiding taking a position on when the human being begins to exist, it betrays the basic concern for equal human dignity that should form the inspiration for its mission. Amnesty’s developed position on human rights law continues this divergence of its practical position from its founding principles.

AI claim that they do not “promote abortion as a human right” (which is just as well, because as the San Jose Articles account, it is not), but they do allege that Amnesty “bases its policies on international law, which is silent on the point of when life begins”. This claim is highly dubious. For one thing, since the human being begins at conception as a matter of biological fact, human rights documents do not need to take a position on the beginning of life. It is enough that they take a position on what type of being possesses rights: the human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states rightly that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, and its first article refers to “All human beings” being free and equal in dignity and rights. It is in this light that Article 3 declares that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.

Indeed, the Declaration forbids denying human rights based on unjust discrimination. Article 2 states that “[e]veryone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind”, and Article 7 says that “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”. So, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is in keeping with the clear words of the Universal Declaration, when in its preamble it says “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”. Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) absolutely prohibits the execution of women who are pregnant.

International human rights legislation then, establishes the right to life of all human beings, including – either explicitly or by implication – children before they are born. Surely this is enough to confirm the necessity of protections for unborn children from being killed in abortion? Not according to Amnesty.

In their recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) consultation for their General Comment on the human right to life, Amnesty claim that “international human rights standards are clear that the right to life protections apply only after birth”.  This is a surprising assertion, because no international or regional human rights treaty says any such thing. They try to play down the preambular reference in the CRC to protections “before” birth, by the fact that it was voted that stronger language not be used. Treaties are political documents however, and whatever victories those who militated against protections against the unborn might have secured, the fact is that the CRC as finally written does indeed say that protections apply “before as well as after birth”. This is important because the primary source for the elucidation of human rights standards is the treaties themselves, and one of the very purposes of a treaty preamble, as with that of any document, is that it must be taken into account in interpreting the text that follows.

Indeed, the political context supports rather than contradicts the true meaning of the text. Some States were sufficiently concerned by the significance of the wording of the preamble that they made declarations when becoming party to the CRC to put their interpretation on the record. The UK, for example, made a declaration after ratifying the Convention stating that “The United Kingdom interprets the Convention as applicable only following a live birth”. France and Luxembourg made declarations to the effect that in their view the Convention presented no obstacle to their legislation on abortion.  The fact that these declarations were made implies that the Convention could otherwise be interpreted as prohibiting abortion, quite the opposite of the view contended for by Amnesty.

Further, whilst it is true (as AI reminds us) that the United Nations Human Rights Committee and other UN committees have criticised States for laws which restrict abortion, they have not adopted Amnesty’s extreme position that the unborn child has no rights whatsoever before birth.

Whilst international states are willing to ignore the text of treaties that they sign, AI is not justified in following their example. Any reading of the international human rights documents that attempts to exclude unborn children from the category of ‘human being’, and thereby from being the recipients of human rights protections, is divorced from scientific fact, and the philosophy of human dignity that lies at the heart of such standards. It is contrary not only to the letter of universal human rights but their spirit also to attempt to push a perniciously restrictive interpretation of the fundamental human right to life, and in doing so marginalise the most vulnerable members of the human family.


This post is part of the ‘Amnesty’s Travesty of Human Rights’ series, and is cross-posted on the Blog of the Life website as part of our joint #AmnestyTravesty campaign. Please go to and sign the petition!