San Jose Articles Launched in Europe to Combat Abortion

International   |   Grégor Puppinck   |   Oct 28, 2011   |   6:18PM   |   Strasbourg, France

On October 26th 2011, the “San Jose Articles” were launched at a press conference held during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

You can access the video and audio (English and French) recording of the press conference here. (20 minutes)

These articles were adopted in Costa Rica on 25th March 2011, to help legislators, government officials, judges, lawyers, academics, and students promote and articulate human rights through a proper, objective understanding of how international law protects the right to life. These articles challenge the false assertions that deny the right to life of the unborn. They also challenge those assertions which erroneously promote abortion as a fundamental right and assert that human life does not start at conception.

The press conference was opened and chaired by Anna Záborská MEP signatory of the San Jose Experts Committee. Grégor Puppinck PhD, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice and a member of the Experts Committee who drafted the San Jose Articles, and Roger Kiska, J.D., representing the Alliance Defense Fund, explained the context, the basis, and the aims of the “San Jose Articles”.

Dr. Grégor Puppinck explained that “science and law converge to the common conclusion that life, as well as the right to life, starts at conception; therefore abortion cannot be a right in itself, but only a derogation to the right to life” :

Scientifically, human life begins at conception (Article 1 of “San Jose Articles”). The European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) very recently reaffirmed this fact in its important judgment of case C-34/10 Oliver Brüstle v. Greenpeace e.V. In Oliver Brüstle, the ECJ was presented with the question whether the 1998 EU Directive,[1] which excluded the human embryo from patentability, applies to all stages of life from fertilization of the ovum or whether other conditions must be met, for example that a certain stage of development must be reached. In answering this question, the ECJ broadly defined the human embryo as an organism “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being,” regardless of whether the embryo formed as the result of fecundation or the product of cloning. With this definition, the ECJ concluded that the Directive covers all stages of life. The ECJ unambiguously clarified, from both a scientific and legal point of view, that human life begins at conception and deserves legal protection at all stages.

Legally, according to the European legal instruments and specifically the European Convention of Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Dr Puppinck exposed why there is no autonomous right to abortion,[2] either based on “private life” or on the “right to life” or to health. The truth is that fundamentally, States have the obligation to protect human life, from conception to the natural death.[3] This obligation stems from the States’ general and fundamental “responsibility to defend the lives of their people” (Articles 5 and 8 of “San Jose Articles”). This well-established principle in international law is a core condition for the legitimacy of every State.
Within the margin of appreciation of each State and taking into consideration the means available at a certain time, States may modulate the extent of the protection they can grant to human life, but no State may entirely derogate from its obligation to protect life. According to human rights law, States may decide to derogate from this obligation, choosing to not entirely protect life from conception (allowing abortion under certain conditions) or at its end (allowing the termination of aggressive treatments). However, this ability to derogate is limited. If States decide to permit abortion under certain circumstances, such as for saving the life of the mother, they should, as the ECtHR has emphasized, shape their regulation “in a coherent manner which allows the different legitimate interests involved to be taken into account adequately and in accordance with the obligations deriving from the Convention.”[4] While derogating to the obligation to protect life, States have to take into consideration, inter alia, parental rights, the interests of society, either of which may include protecting morality, as well as the right to life of the unborn,[5] or the aim of society to avoid too large a number of abortions being carried out.[6] The Council of Europe’s recent condemnation of “sex selective abortions”[7] also represents an example of a compulsory restriction on a State’s ability to modulate from its obligation to protect life.

Therefore, the idea of a “human right to abortion” directly contradicts the entire architecture of human rights: human rights first acknowledge the fundamental right to life and then tolerates only a limited ability for a State to deviate from its primary obligation to protect life. In fact, a complete ban on abortion complies with European and International law, whereas its complete liberalisation doesn’t.
When faced with political pressures emanating from supranational institutions, which attempt to force States to legalize abortion, States can and should effectively invoke treaty provisions guaranteeing the right to life as encompassing a State responsibility to protect the unborn child from abortion.
Life, as well as the right to life, begins at conception; abortion is not a right in itself; it is a derogation to the right to life,” concluded Dr. Grégor Puppinck.

Roger Kiska, representing the Alliance Defense Fund which also took part in elaborating the Articles, highlighted that we should not forget why the international legal instruments were created after WWII: to oppose the totalitarian regimes. He emphasized that all of those legal instruments protect the right to life. Kiska found it troubling that still in 2011 many States allow forced abortion, abortion targeting the disabled, and sex selective abortions.

The San Jose articles have been drafted and signed by notable figures from around the world including Lord David Alton, Lord Nicholas Windsor, Professor John Haldane of St Andrews, Professor John Finnis of Oxford, Professor Robert George of Princeton, former Human Rights Judge Javier Borrego (European Court of Human Rights), and many others from the worlds of law, politics, academics, science, medicine, public policy and government.

[1] EU Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.
[2] A., B. & C. v. Ireland [GC], n° 25579/05, judgment of 16 December 2010,§ 214.
[3] L.C.B. v. UK, n° 23413/94, judgment of 9 June 1998, § 36.
[4] A., B. & C. v. Ireland [GC], n° 25579/05, judgment of 16 December 2010,§ 214; and R.R. v. Poland,n° 27617/04, 26 May 2011, § 187.
[5] Open Door & Dublin Well Woman v. Ireland, 29 October 1992, § 63, Series A no. 246-A;A., B. & C. v. Ireland [GC], n° 25579/05, judgment of 16 December 2010,§§ 222, 227.
[6] Odièvre v. France [GC], n° 42326/98, 13 February. 2003, § 45.
[7] Prenatal sex selection: The Council of Europe recognizes necessary restrictions on abortion.


– The “San Jose Articles” website.
– You can access the video and audio (English and French) recording of the press conference.