UN Human Rights Committee Formally Excludes Unborn Child From ‘Right to Life’

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By Stefano Gennarini, J.D., C-Fam, November 3, 2017

NEW YORK, November 3, 2017 (C-Fam) – Despite pleas from more than one hundred governments and pro-life organizations, including the United States and Poland, the UN Human Rights Committee has excluded unborn children from the right to life in international law this week in Geneva.

“I was worried for a minute we would discuss the word limit for separate opinions,” joked Yuval Shany. The Israeli law professor was mocking pro-life concerns as the committee rushed through a second reading of a controversial draft commentary on the right to life in what is perhaps the most important UN human rights treaty.

Shany, who has been in charge of the draft for two years, knew there would be no dissent. The 18 members of the committee that records the state efforts to implement the treaty unanimously agreed on a text that in some respects is more extreme than the previous one.

The committee added language about access to abortion not just being a right under the covenant, but that it must also be “affordable” and “effective,” as abortion groups recommended to the committee. U.S. law professor Sarah Cleveland said this was needed to make it easier for rape victims to obtain abortions.

No expert expressed concern for children in the womb capable of feeling pain, or brought up the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which expressly requires states to protect children “before birth.”

“I am very sensitive to my conscience,” said Mauro Politi at one point. The Italian professor’s conscience was not troubled by abortion itself, but the need to ensure women are able to abort their unborn children in cases of rape, disability, or when a mother’s life is at risk.

“Of course, we have agreed that it is up to states to make the determination of when life begins,” said German professor Anja Seibert-Fohr—the only member of the committee who advised caution about imposing a right to abortion, pointing to the European Court of Human Rights as a model.

“States do have some discretion,” agreed Shany. “We do not want to touch the issue of late-term abortions.”

The Japanese Chair of the committee, Yuji Iwasawa was in a hurry and appeared impatient. He insisted these issues had already been discussed though there is no public record of those discussions.

The committee barely flinched as the United States, Russia, Egypt, Japan, Poland, and others denied the committee’s authority to read a right to abortion into the treaty.

The treaty is a “living instrument” said French professor Olivier de Frouville. Along with Shany, he pointed out how the committee and UN treaty bodies routinely insist on a right to abortion.

The only snag for the committee was not from sovereign States but another part of the UN bureaucracy. The UN committee on disabilities asked that the draft be changed to avoid expressions that demean the disabled. Iwasawa indicated that he had met with the Chair of the disabilities committee, and implied that the disabilities committee would be fine with referring to abortion for “non-viable” pregnancies as opposed to abortion for fatally “impaired” fetuses.

The second reading is expected to continue in March. The committee has yet to reach the issue of euthanasia, which is currently considered an obligation in the draft commentary.

Reprinted with permission from C-FAM.