National Catholic Register


Will the U.N.’s Disabilities Convention Include ‘Right’ to Abortion?


Contributing Editor

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 10:00 AM


NEW YORK — According to pro-lifers with experience at the United Nations, the international organization suffers from a chronic handicap.

The handicap: The U.N.’s continual efforts to promote abortion through code language inserted into a host of U.N. documents dealing with matters that seemingly have little to do with the contentious issue.

A case in point is the negotiations currently underway among U.N. member states to create a new convention to protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

“There’s an agenda being pushed at the U.N., and that’s to make abortion, euthanasia and homosexual ‘marriage’ an international human right,” said National Right to Life Committee board member Wayne Cockfield, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who has been monitoring negotiations to draft the proposed U.N. Disabilities Convention.

While pro-lifers have identified a number of problems with the wording of the disability convention, their top concern is the inclusion of the phrase “sexual and reproductive health services” in the draft text of Article 25, which deals with health issues.

In recent years, pro-abortion Western delegations, such as Canada and the member states of the European Union, have sought to incorporate such language into U.N. documents, generally without commenting about whether “reproductive health services” include access to abortion.

But that’s exactly how the term “reproductive health services” is being interpreted by Western governments, international pro-abortion lobby groups and the World Health Organization, pro-life advocates contend.

Ireland’s Patrick Buckley, director of the European Life Network, said that a convention to safeguard the rights of disabled people is a “great idea.” And, he said, the convention should guarantee their rights to a full range of necessary health services.

However, given that the World Health Organization has interpreted “reproductive health services” as including access to abortion, the term should not be included in the convention’s health article, Buckley argued.

‘Hard Law’

If an agreement can be reached on the U.N. Disability Convention’s final wording during the next round of negotiations Aug. 14-25 in New York and the convention is ratified by national governments, it will become the first major new international treaty since the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force in 1990.

As such, the disability convention would constitute what legal experts call “hard law,” which is binding on individual nations.

That’s what makes the drive to include “reproductive health” language, which subsequently could be interpreted as having created a universal international “human right” to abortion, so troubling to pro-lifers involved in the disabilities convention’s negotiations.

“If you don’t explicitly rule out a connotation or an implication of a term, courts feel absolutely at liberty to read their own prejudice into that term,” said Brian Scarnecchia, legal counsel to the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

While the term “reproductive health services” has never been formally defined in a U.N. document, delegates from Western countries have repeatedly pushed for its inclusion during social-policy negotiating sessions over the last decade. Almost without exception, they have declined to say whether the term refers to abortion.

One exception occurred in the spring of 2001, during preparatory negotiations over the conference document for the upcoming U.N. Child Summit. Pressured by a U.S. delegate to state whether “reproductive health services” included access to abortion, the alternate head of the Canadian delegation acknowledged that Canada interpreted the term as referring to abortion.

U.N. pro-lifers say that Canada has also been one of the leading supporters of inclusion of the “reproductive health services” language in the U.N. Disabilities Convention. Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Rejean Beaulieu declined comment when asked if Canada was backing the disputed language.

Beaulieu also refused to comment on whether the Canadian delegate’s 2001 remark accurately reflected Canada’s interpretation of the meaning of “reproductive health services.”

The Holy See’s U.N. delegation has been one of the firmest opponents of the use of undefined “reproductive health” language.

Commenting via e-mail to the Register, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, said the Holy See is opposed to the language’s inclusion.

“While the different derivations of ‘reproductive health’ do not create and have not created any new international rights, including the right to abortion, all the existing definitions or descriptions of ‘sexual and reproductive health’ and ‘sexual and reproductive health services’ in the U.N. documents clearly include access to abortion as a method or service of health systems, where abortion is not against the law,” he said.

He also pointed out that while other internationally agreed documents defining sexual and reproductive health/services have provisions to protect the rights of countries to legislate on the matter, the reference in the convention on Persons with Disabilities does not have this legal protection.

National Right to Life Committee board member Cockfield, a former Marine Corps sergeant who lost both legs and much of the use of his right arm when he was critically wounded in battle, said that the pro-abortion forces at the convention negotiations have tried to exclude pro-life perspectives.

After he made his views known in 2004, Cockfield said, an EU delegate engineered his exclusion from the disabilities caucus that includes non-governmental organizations representing the disabled. According to Cockfield, most caucus members are concerned with improving access for disabled people to jobs, education and health care and with improving physical infrastructure for the disabled.

He said he warned the caucus that those kinds of improvements would matter little compared to the damage that will occur if “stealth” anti-life language remains in the convention.


 Tom McFeely is based in
Victoria, British Columbia.