The Age reports that Amnesty International is facing upheaval and mass resignations after it decided last month to advocate that abortion be decriminalised worldwide.
Many Christians, especially Catholics, are expected to resign and may establish an alternative human rights organisation, the paper believes.
The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference is considering its response, but a senior Catholic said yesterday he thought "a parting of the ways" was inevitable. Amnesty estimates that 500 Catholic schools in Australia have member groups, as do other Christian schools.
Melbourne Vicar-General Les Tomlinson said Australia's bishops were investigating the policy and would make a unified response.
"There's always been a sympathy between Amnesty's goals and ideals and the church, so this is a significant step," he told The Age.
Amnesty's International executive adopted the policy last month as part of its campaign to curb violence against women. Widney Brown, Amnesty's international director of policy, said yesterday the policy called for decriminalisation of abortion and access to secure abortions for pregnancies resulting from sexual violence, or that risk the mother's life or health.
"Our researchers found that in armed conflict, in places like the Congo and Darfur, the pregnancies were not only unwanted but led to ostracism," Ms Brown said from London.
"Women were further stigmatised if they had a child from a combatant from the other side. If a woman is raped and doesn't have access to abortion, that's cruel and degrading treatment."
Previously Amnesty was neutral about abortion. The group has 2.2 million members and supporters worldwide, including about 72,000 in Australia. It does not know how many are Christians, but Amnesty has traditionally been the envy of other human rights groups because of its strong church-based support.
Earlier, writing for Eureka Street, Fr Chris Middleton, principal of St Aloysius' College in Sydney, said Amnesty's Australian membership would be deeply hit, and in the Third World it would be reduced to a partisan and ideologically exclusive group.
Fr Middleton said that in the US the policy would weaken the campaign against capital punishment by driving a wedge between its two most vocal critics, Amnesty and the Catholic Church.
Amnesty has been criticised for secrecy - Fr Middleton said he found out only after the decision was made - and for moving away from its focus on prisoners of conscience.
Amnesty in hot water on abortion (The Age, 27/5/07)
Prochoice Amnesty means no choice for members (Eureka Street, 18/5/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Amnesty International Australia
US Catholic bishops website
Amnesty in call for decriminalisation of abortion (CathNews, 11/5/07)
Canadian bishops warn Amnesty over abortion (CathNews, 21/7/06)
Amnesty, Vic ALP moves on abortion provoke Catholic ire (CathNews, 8/5/06)