Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood urges his flock to withdraw support for human rights group, reports Mark Greaves BISHOP THOMAS McMahon of Brentwood has urged Catholics in his diocese to withdraw their support for Amnesty International.
The bishop said in a pastoral letter for this year's Day for Life that he had cancelled his subscription to Amnesty because of its shift towards a pro-abortion policy.
"Like many of you I have been a great admirer and subscriber to Amnesty International over many years," he said in a letter read out in parishes on Sunday.
"It has now changed its neutral stance on abortion. I have therefore cancelled my subscription to Amnesty International and I would urge you to do the same."
Bishop McMahon is the first English bishop to join Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in calling for a boycott of Amnesty.
The human rights organisation, set up by Oxford lawyer and Catholic convert Peter Benenson in 1961, adopted a policy in April advocating the global decriminalisation of abortion up until birth.
Amnesty now supports a right to abortion for women who have been impregnated by rape or incest or when the mother's life is at risk.
The theme of this year's Day for Life was "Blessed is the fruit of your womb", to mark the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act which legalised abortion in Britain.
Since the Act was passed in 1967 more than six million unborn children have been killed.
"During these years there has been mounting scientific evidence of the evil of abortion," Bishop McMahon said in his pastoral letter. "Yet our. society has come to accept it as a matter of personal choice."
The bishop added that a change "in the hearts and mindsof British people would be needed before the legislation could be reversed and called on his flock to work and pray for this change.
Archbishop Kevin MacDonald of Southwark, in his Day for Life pastoral letter, also lamented the fact that abortion had been accepted "as a matter of personal choice".
He said that the Day for Life was "an opportunity to bring this matter before God in a spirit of prayer and reparation".
The archbishop added that Catholics "should not be afraid to speak out and to proclaim confidently the Gospel of Life".
Meanwhile Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton said in his pastoral letter that society often reduced the Church to a "narrow band of issues" abortion, birth control and celibacy "as if that is all that Catholics either think of talk about". He argued that this year's Day for Life was first of all a day to rejoice in what the Church does to protect life, and to recognise organisa(ions that uphold fundamental human rights. He pointed to the work of doctors and nurses, to hospices, to the charity Life, and since "life is not just a question of extremes" to homeless centres in Brighton.
Last week the British Medical Association voted to make it easier to have an abortion by removing the need for two doctors' signatures.
Two-thirds of the doctors attending BMA's annual conference in Torquay voted to abolish the requirement in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Government figures published last month showed that the number of abortions in Britain rose by 3.9 per cent in 2006, compared to an increase of only 0.4 per cent the previous year.
Julia Millington, political director of the Pro-Life Alliance, said that a liberalisation of the abortion law was "the last thing we need".
Amnesty International has defended its change of abortion policy by saying that it does not support abortion as a right but instead supports women who are victims of rape in conflicts in Africa.
Kate Gilmore, the executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty, said the new policy reflected solidarity with "the rape survivor in Darfur who, because she is left pregnant as a result of the enemy, is further ostracised by her community".
The organisation supports the decriminalisation of abor tion up to birth so that rape victims do not face "insurmountable challenges" in terminating a pregnancy. The new policy opposes imprisonment and other criminal penalties for having, giving information about or performing abortions at any stage of gestation.
Amnesty will review its policy at an International Council Meeting in Mexico in August. Earlier in the year Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia said that Catholics ought to wait until after the international meeting before leaving Amnesty.
Cardinal Martino has accused Amnesty, which was established to fight for the rights of prisoners of conscience, of "betraying its mission".
"To selectively justify abortion, even in the cases of rape, is to define the innocent child within the womb as an enemy, a 'thing' that must be destroyed," the cardinal argued. "How can we say that killing a child in some cases is good and in other cases it is evil?
"I believe that if, in fact, Amnesty International persists in this course of action, individuals and Catholic organisations must withdraw their support."