The fight for life at the United Nations
Sixty years ago South American delegates to the body that created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tried to get explicit protection from abortion for the unborn child. The Soviet Union tried to get a universal right to abortion. Both failed. The compromise language says: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” To you and me that certainly looks like a prohibition on abortion, but that is not how it’s interpreted by the powers-that-be at the United Nations and in many places around the world.
This year the U.N. celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, one of the founding documents of the U.N. and the modern human rights movement. It was negotiated in the shadow of the Nazi holocaust. The document was heavily influenced by Catholic thinkers like Jacques Maritain and also by those delegations of faithful Catholics from Latin America.
It is a good document, expressing essential Catholic teachings of the freedom and dignity of the human person: freedom of conscience, freedom to worship and many other aspirations of every human heart — aspirations placed there by God Himself.
The Universal Declaration was used to great effect in the Cold War. American policy makers and freedom fighters on the ground around the world used it effectively to help those enslaved in the grip of Godless totalitarianism. We could use it as a tool in our day too, but sadly the lingua franca of human rights has been greatly devalued by the growth of phony rights.
Some years ago, during a U.N. negotiation, one of my staff members took a picture of a meeting. In the picture was a pro-abortion radical who represented the Girl Scouts at the U.N. She complained loudly that by taking her picture we violated her human rights. Such is the debasement of human rights.
Hearkening back to the founding argument, many have never given up on making abortion a universally recognized human right. At the U.N. level this is being led most notably by the European Union, along with their allies in the U.N. agencies and U.N. bureaucracy. Over the years they have tried to get an explicit right to abortion in various U.N. documents. They have failed because they have been stopped by a coalition of U.N. member states and non-governmental organizations such as my own, the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). But they are sneaky and sly. Though they have lost these debates, they have found a way to advance their cause far from the democratic process.
The U.N. has committees called treaty monitoring bodies. When a government ratifies a treaty, they must explain to one of these committees how they are implementing the treaty. These treaty bodies have highly limited power to ask questions and write reports. What they have done — like bureaucrats everywhere — is grab more power. They have taken it upon themselves to reinterpret these treaties in more and more radical ways and then to try and impose this new interpretation onto sovereign states. Keep in mind that these treaty monitoring bodies are made up of unelected radicals unconnected to sovereign states. They are mostly academics and representatives of radical pro-abortion groups.
The treaty monitoring body of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the implementing treaties of the Universal Declaration, has interpreted that treaty as including the right to abortion. That’s right — the right to life passage in that treaty is now interpreted as guaranteeing a right to abortion! The major treaty monitoring bodies routinely find a right to abortion in everything.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights hits 60 years old in December, there will be celebrations galore. A few months ago we noticed that a group called Marie Stopes International was running a petition campaign asking the U.N. to formally interpret the Universal Declaration as including a right to abortion. Marie Stopes is a British group which, like International Planned Parenthood Federation, is one of the world’s largest and richest abortion providers.
We noticed something else about their campaign. Their petition drive had been running for a year and had only gotten a few hundred signatures! We reported on this in our organization’s weekly Friday Fax report, which goes to nearly 100,000 people all over the world. Marie Stopes was shamed into taking their failed campaign down.
We decided to do something else. We launched a campaign of our own. Our petition asks governments to begin interpreting the Universal Declaration as protecting the unborn child from abortion and also protecting the traditional family, which the Declaration defines as between one man and one woman. We are at nearly 170,000 signatories from all over the world after only a few weeks. We could go to 200,000, maybe more. The petition has been translated into 12 languages and is rapidly circling the globe.
A coalition of 12 groups from around the world will present our petition in the official U.N. press briefing room at 11 a.m. on Dec. 10. The truth always will out.
Austin Ruse is president of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), the only pro-life group working exclusively on pro-life issues at the U.N. He has spoken to many Legatus chapters and several times at Summits. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.