Major UN Committee Breaking Its Own Rules to Push Abortion as a Human Right

International   |   Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.   |   Jul 24, 2015   |   4:02PM   |   New York, NY

New York, NY (CFAM/LifeNews) — The way in which the UN Human Rights Committee conducted business last week indicates a plan to abandon neutrality on the question of whether abortion is a right under international law.

Such a move would bolster abortion groups pressuring traditional societies to abandon protection for their unborn children and fuel American activists trying to strike down legal limitations on abortion in the United States.

At the deadline for submissions to the committee’s discussion on the right to life last week, some 30 of the 55 submissions were strongly in favor of protecting human life before and after birth, an understanding which many nations have maintained since the treaty was negotiated. By the day of the discussion a month later the number doubled. Virtually all of the latecomers advocated for abortion and against the common understanding of the treaty.

Pro-life advocates concluded that the committee broke its own rules of procedure to accommodate or even solicit abortion advocates’ input. They also observed that the committee gave pro-life speakers less floor time than abortion advocates and asked abortion groups to comment on pro-life statements.

While the discussion was meant to solicit public comment on the right to life more broadly, nearly all of the submissions pertained to the abortion debate.

The Human Rights Committee has already pressured nations to liberalize abortion using various articles of the treaty it is responsible for monitoring – the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The general comment could formalize that position, specifically saying that the right to life includes a right to abortion.

The United States is bound by the ICCPR, which it ratified in 1992. While the committee has no authority to reinterpret the treaty with new obligations and nations are free to dismiss its views, influential officials like Associate Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg see such comments as part of the “opinions of mankind” that should guide interpretation of U.S. law.

The general comment would be useful in moving the Supreme Court to view abortion cases as matters of non-discrimination, which is the context for UN human rights treaties. So far the U.S. Supreme Court has not adopted that stance, long promoted by Justice Ginsburg. The Supreme Court has instead held that it is a matter of privacy concerning people who are pregnant.

Ginsburg’s view, reflected in the late-breaking comments to the Human Rights Committee last week, is that abortion is a matter of equality and non-discrimination because only women can get pregnant and therefore it is a matter affecting all women all the time. By limiting abortion, they argue, nations endanger the lives of all women since pregnancy can sometimes lead to maternal death.

The general comment is just the latest episode in a twenty-year attempt to create a human right to abortion by bureaucratic processes of UN meetings and committees. That effort so far failed and in recent years abortion advocates have complained they have lost ground.

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The fact that many nations reject the controversial reinterpretation of the right to life makes including abortion in the general comment risky for the credibility and effectiveness of the Human Rights Committee and for its bureaucratic boss, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The committee will consider a first draft of the document in a closed session called the first reading. The public will have an opportunity to comment on it before the committee’s second reading.

unitednations6 Note: Susan Yoshihara writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.