All eyes and ears will be on Peter on Friday, perhaps like never before.
Pope Francis addresses the largest-ever gathering of heads of state as the United Nations marks its 70th birthday. They will be at U.N. headquarters to adopt the organization’s most important agreement involving social policy in the last quarter century.
Alongside the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe, climate change and other topics he is expected to address, I hope Pope Francis will denounce the slaughter of 50 million unborn children every year through induced abortion and the U.N.’s increasing complicit role in this massacre.
Francis has not shied away from condemning abortion before, and there are many reasons Pope Francis might speak out against what many have dubbed the human-rights issue of our time.
His popularity and charisma have gained for the Church a new global audience, perhaps one that has never really listened before, and this could lead to changes of heart and mind for many millions. No pope may ever get a better opportunity to articulate an ethic of life to a truly global audience. Perhaps most importantly, it is a key moment for the pro-life cause internationally and at the United Nations.
Abortion groups have consistently failed to establish an international right to abortion. No U.N. treaty mentions a right to abortion, or can be fairly interpreted to include a right to abortion. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of hours spent over the last four decades, they have failed to change international law.
While abortion groups have been unsuccessful at the normative level, they have been remarkably successful at the policy level, by co-opting the U.N. bureaucratic machinery to promote abortion under the guise of “women’s health.” It is now difficult to find a place within the global institutional network of U.N. experts and bureaucrats where abortion is not viewed as a humane solution to crisis pregnancies, if not a human right.
Tragically, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as the agreement that will be adopted during the papal visit is known, continue to place the United Nations on a path of willful ignorance and moral deafness. Despite the many net positives expected from the new goals, abortion groups will continue to be beneficiaries of U.N. policy under the goals.
The SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets on a broad spectrum of policy, from health and education to economic development, and preserving biodiversity. But the heart of the agreement is “the eradication of poverty,” a theme that has resounded with Pope Francis, who is said to have followed the final negotiations closely this summer. They are expected to direct several trillion dollars of development assistance over the next 15 years and shape national policies around the globe.
Two targets in the agreement speak of “universal access” to “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in the context of health and gender equality. These terms are known euphemisms for abortion.
They were only ever defined by U.N. member states at the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development, expressly referred to in the new goals. In the Cairo agreement, abortion is listed as a “basic component” of sexual and reproductive health, with the caveat that abortion is not an international right but an issue to be dealt with in national laws.
The caveat was added as a compromise, thanks largely to the combative efforts of St. John Paul the Great to stop an international right to abortion at the United Nations, something he accomplished against all odds. Even so, the Holy See has never accepted the compromise because it legitimizes abortion by introducing it in U.N. policy, de facto excluding the unborn from any protection under international law.
Some Catholics say that the controversial terms are innocuous because these agreements are merely political and not legally binding. They point to the caveat to the Cairo agreement for support. Reality shows otherwise. The U.N. bureaucracy and wealthy governments that control U.N. agencies have brushed aside any caveats to the controversial terms as irrelevancies.
Moreover, through the SDGs, abortion groups have been able to ensure a permanent funding stream for a powerful and extensive global abortion lobby. The new development goals further cement their position in U.N. policy and their influence at U.N. headquarters.
The situation of the pro-life cause internationally is precarious. Much of the U.N. system is already compromised.
U.N. human-rights “experts” routinely tell countries that abortion should be legal. The World Health Organization has been planning to bring abortion into every nook and cranny of the globe for years under the pretext of safeguarding maternal health. The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) denies that it promotes abortion, at the same time that it advocates for legal abortion as a solution to “unsafe abortion.”
In the General Assembly, at the political level, things are not much better.
No U.N. delegation, except the Holy See, ever mentions abortion as a violation of the human right to life. The most any country that restricts abortion will say is that it is a domestic issue.
No mainstream human rights or development organization speaks on behalf of the unborn either. Large and influential human-rights organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, advocate for a human right to abortion.
Over the years, the pro-life movement has come to depend heavily on the Holy See to herald the truth that every human being is worthy of protection because of his or her inherent dignity and worth.
But while the pro-life movement is well aware of the threat to life posed by U.N. policy, the rest of the world is not. Pope Francis’ moment in the spotlight could be transformative for the pro-life cause.
All eyes and ears will be on Peter this Friday, perhaps like never before.
Stefano Gennarini is the director of legal studies at the Center for Family and Human Rights.