Reproductive Rights vs. the Right to Life
Abortion proponents are using the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights to argue their case
BY MOLLY MULQUEEN
March 8-14, 1998 Issue | Posted 3/8/98 at 2:00 PM
An important event will be commemorated later this year when the United Nations' Universal Declaration on Human Rights marks its 50th anniversary.
Members of the pro-life movement, hoping to capitalize on the attention that will be generated by the occurrence, plan a public information campaign underscoring the universal rights of the unborn. Not surprisingly, abortion advocates are planning a counter attack that centers on women's universal rights, which, they claim, should include the right to a legal abortion in every nation in the world.
On Dec. 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a response to the atrocities of World War II. All member nations were urged to disseminate this declaration to every country and territory in the world. The preamble of the Declaration asserts “the inherent dignity and … equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”
Father Frank Pavone, a Rome-based priest of the Archdiocese of New York and official of the Pontifical Council for the Family and the international director of Priests For Life, said the Declaration's preamble is a “key theme” upon which to build a case for the rights of the unborn.
“Governments can neither bestow nor remove human dignity from a human being,” Father Pavone explained. “Governments, rather, exist to preserve and protect rights that are inherent … rights which reside by definition within the human being precisely because he or she is a human being, not because he or she has … been awarded those rights by some outside entity.”
The case for the rights of the unborn grows stronger as one forges through the rest of the Declaration. Article 3 states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the security of person.” Article 6 states that “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” Article 7 states that “all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.” Articles 18 and 19 assert the rights of each person to “freedom of religion and opinion on various matters,” as well as the right to “exercise that religion and express that opinion.”
Article 30 may, however, contain the most pertinent statement of all on behalf of the unborn. It states that “nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as implying for any state, group, or person any right to engage in any activity, or to perform any act, aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
Father Pavone explained Article 30 using this illustration: “If I claimed to practice a religion that required me to kill another human being every Sunday as part of the worship service, although I have the freedom of religion, I do not have right to destroy the life of another human being.”
This also applies to abortion, said the priest. “The right to life, which is inherent and incapable of being annulled by any government, may not be trampled upon in the name of religious freedom.”
“It is a favorite position of defenders of abortion to claim their ‘right to believe what they want’ and to ‘have their own opinion’ about the status of the child in the womb.” But the right of someone to live is not compromised simply because someone else does not recognize that right, Father Pavone wrote in a Pontifical Council for the Family statement.
The proponents of abortion have used some of the same citations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make a case for the “reproductive rights” of women, which, they contend, supersede the rights of the unborn. The interpretation of the Declaration seems to turn on the personhood status of the unborn in much the same way that it does in laws throughout the United States. If an unborn child is not considered a person under the Declaration, then it does not share the same inherent rights that its parents have. Following such logic, killing an unborn child by abortion does not violate the terms of the Declaration.
As a coordinator of pro-life activities throughout the world, Father Pavone has monitored the activities of the United Nations and is promoting a strategy to assert the “human-ness”—and therefore the inherent rights—of the unborn. The current U.N. strategy is one that he finds particularly challenging to the pro-life movement.
“At the various meetings [the United Nations has] had, a line of reasoning has developed that works as follows: Human rights are universal. Women's rights are human rights. Therefore, women's right are universal,” he explained.
“Of course, nothing about that sounds wrong—until you realize that when they say ‘women's rights,’ they include anything that is legal, as well as anything that can be put under the umbrella of ‘reproductive and sexual health.’ This includes abortion. The syllogism therefore leads to the conclusion that it is a human right for a woman to have an abortion,” the priest said.
The topic of women's universal rights will be an important part of the New York meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women scheduled for this month.
“This is significant, because ‘human’ rights are more fundamental than the rights which any nation's constitution can grant people,” Father Pavone said. “Therefore, under this scenario, the nation that protects its unborn children by not allowing abortion is somehow at odds with a universal human right.”
He speculated that one of the factors motivating this new tack by abortion advocates is data released late last year by the population division of the United Nations, which shows that there is no longer a “population explosion.” On the contrary, their expert demographers said that in nearly half of the nations where the research was conducted, there is an unprecedented occurrence of below-replacement fertility levels.
“Promoting abortion under the motive of ‘reducing population’ has lost its weight in argument. Now, therefore, they try to defend and promote abortion as some kind of human right,” Father Pavone said.
The United Nations is currently attempting to increase its ability to enforce the rights set forth in the Declaration through the establishment of a world court with broad enforcement authority.
“Pro-life, pro-family organizations should consider this to be a very grave development related to all of their efforts to defend life and family,” said Father Pavone. “If these U.N. plans are successfully implemented, all pro-life work, legislation, and statements could be seriously challenged in all U.N. member nations.”
Molly Mulqueen writes from Colorado Springs, Colo
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