GENEVA — Assertions by members of the U.N. Human Rights Committee that Irish abortion law violates international human-rights agreements is erroneous and exceeds its authority, one observer has said.
“No U.N. [agreement] or any other kind of treaty or understanding supports the notion that there is a human right to abortion,” Austin Ruse, president of the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told CNA July 24.
“Only one treaty even mentions ‘reproductive health,’ but even that treaty does not call for a right to abortion,” he added. “This idea is made up out of whole cloth by the sexual left. And it is an idea that is even losing ground at the U.N. and around the world.”
The U.N. Human Rights Committee in mid-July hearings in Geneva considered Ireland’s adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as part of a regular periodic review. Several committee members and witnesses contended that Irish abortion restrictions violated human-rights agreements.
The Irish pro-life group Family & Life said that several of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that testified before the committee had strong pro-abortion positions, including the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights and the Irish affiliate of Planned Parenthood, the Irish Family Planning Association.
Human Rights Committee member Cornelis Flinterman of the Netherlands charged that Ireland’s law was restrictive and claimed that refusing legal abortion to a woman is cruel and degrading punishment, Family & Life said.
The group added that committee Chairman Sir Nigel Rodley of the United Kingdom said that Irish abortion policy results in discrimination on the grounds of wealth or social class because some Irish women can afford to travel abroad for abortions and others cannot.
While Ireland’s constitution recognizes the equal right to life of the unborn child and the pregnant woman, Ireland changed its abortion laws in 2013 to allow pregnant women whose lives are at risk or who say they are suicidal to secure abortions.
Ruse, whose organization monitors the U.N. and other international organizations, said that the committee has “no authority whatsoever” to reinterpret the agreement to include the right to abortion.
“There is no precedent and no grounds in international law. They are simply making this stuff up. The problem is that, in making this stuff up, they are harming a genuine understanding of human rights and international law, and that is profoundly dangerous,” Ruse said. “Most governments utterly ignore these ridiculous kangaroo committees.”
Thomas Finegan, legal and public policy adviser with Family & Life, made an oral intervention before the committee on July 15.
“There is no such thing as a right to abortion in international human-rights law, whether as an explicit right or as an adjunct to other rights. Any statement to the contrary displays either an ignorance of international human-rights law or a cavalier and manipulative attitude towards genuine human rights,” he said.
He objected that the committee questions to the Irish government presuppose that abortion is a human right and that the unborn child is not a human being or a member of the human family.
“We urge you to protect unborn members of the human family, and the integrity of international human-rights law itself, by disavowing a supposed right to abortion, including a right to abortion on the grounds of an unborn child’s disability or the crimes of his or her father,” Finegan said.
Finegan said that the unborn child is recognized as having human rights by “various international human-rights law provisions,” including the Preamble to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
He said the anti-abortion provision of the Irish constitution “should be lauded on human-rights grounds.”
Ruse said that pro-life advocates should emphasize that committees like the U.N. Committee on Human Rights “have no power” and are “out of control.”
“We need to save human rights from the human-rights industry,” he said.
The Irish government’s delegation to the U.N. committee did not make significant defenses against criticisms from committee members who supported broader access to abortion. Some committee members focused on legalizing abortion for women pregnant by rape and pregnant women whose health was at risk.
Frances Fitzgerald, the Republic of Ireland’s minister of justice, told the committee that a constitutional referendum would be necessary to “capture all of the circumstances outlined by the committee,” according to the Irish Times.
However, Mary Jackson, an official with the Republic of Ireland’s health ministry, told the committee that the Irish constitution’s right-to-life provision is in conformity with the U.N. convention, Family & Life said.
The committee’s actions were widely reported in the Irish press, often angled in favor of further changing the country’s abortion laws.
U.N. committees have touched on abortion in past actions.
In 2011, the U.N. Committee on the Convention Against Torture called on Ireland to change its abortion laws. In May 2014, members of the anti-torture committee pressed the Holy See, a signatory to the anti-torture convention, about Catholic opposition to abortion. One committee member claimed that the committee holds that laws that prohibit abortion in all circumstances violate the convention.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child’s February 2014 report on the Holy See’s compliance with a children’s rights treaty also condemned Catholic teaching against abortion, calling for changes in Catholic doctrine.