UN General Assembly Approves
Clear Understanding that the Term "Sexual and Reproductive
Does Not Include a Right to Abortion Reaffirmed.
By Jeanne E. Head, R.N., NRLC UN Representative
Today, December 13, 2006, after
four years of negotiations, the UN General Assembly gave final
approval to a treaty (Convention) the purpose of which is the
protection of the rights and dignity of Persons with Disabilities on
an equal basis with others. Its provisions include the right to
life, food, water, and health care without discrimination. The
treaty Preamble affirms the inherent right to life and the "dignity
and worth" of persons with disabilities.
The treaty, which it is hoped
will substantially improve the lives of persons with disabilities
throughout the world, includes 50 Articles on a wide variety of
subjects relating to disability and establishes a committee to
monitor compliance to the treaty.
A significant number of
countries from every major region in the world except Europe made
formal Interpretative Statements regarding the inclusion in the
treaty of the controversial term "sexual and reproductive health"
which appears for the first time in any hard law UN document.
Today's Interpretative Statements, which went unchallenged by any
country, reaffirmed the clear understanding during the treaty
negotiations that this term cannot legitimately be misrepresented to
include abortion, create any new rights such as a right to abortion
and cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or
promotion of abortion.
In light of all these statements
and the language of the treaty, the committee responsible for
enforcing compliance to this treaty would be going way beyond their
mandate if they were to make this misinterpretation. It is crucial
that they do not because nations that sign and ratify a treaty are
required to change their laws in order to comply with the treaty.
The reason pro-life national
delegations and NGOs were concerned with this special inclusion of
the term "reproductive health" in a binding treaty was because, in
the past, the committees charged with enforcing compliance to other
UN Human Rights Treaties have frequently gone way beyond their
mandate and pressured States Parties to legalize abortion even
though these treaties do not contain any reference to "sexual and
reproductive health" or any similar term. Also, other UN bodies and
powerful Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have falsely
interpreted this term (which already appears in non-binding UN
documents) as including a right to abortion to justify,
sometimes successfully, promoting legalization of abortion in
countries throughout the world.
The Convention now must be
signed and ratified by each country separately. It will go into
effect thirty days after twenty countries have ratified it. The
treaty will only be binding on those countries that sign and ratify
Three of the strongest
statements were made by the US, the Holy See .and the Marshall
Relevant Excerpt from US Statement
this regard, the United States understands that the phrase
"reproductive health" in Article 25(a) of the draft Convention does
not include abortion, and its use in that Article does not create
any abortion rights, and cannot be interpreted to constitute
support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion. We stated this
understanding at the time of adoption of the Convention in the Ad
Hoc Committee, and note that no other delegation suggested a
different understanding of this term."
Relevant Excerpt from Holy See Statement
Finally, and most
importantly, regarding article 25 on health, and specifically the
reference to sexual and reproductive health, the Holy See
understands access to reproductive health as being a holistic
concept that does not consider abortion or access to abortion as a
dimension of those terms. Moreover, we agree with the broad
consensus that has been voiced in this chamber and the travaux
préparatoires that this article does not create any new
international rights and is merely intended to ensure that a
person's disability is not used as a basis for denying a health
However, even with this
understanding, we opposed the inclusion of such a phrase in this
article, because in some countries reproductive health services
include abortion, thus denying the inherent right to life of every
human being, affirmed by article 10 of the Convention. It is surely
tragic that, wherever fetal defect is a precondition for offering or
employing abortion, the same Convention created to protect persons
with disabilities from all discrimination in the exercise of their
rights, may be used to deny the very basic right to life of disabled
For this reason, and
despite the many helpful articles this Convention contains, the Holy
See is unable to sign it."
Relevant Excerpt from Marshall Islands
Based on the fact that the
Preamble expresses the intent of the treaty, the Marshall Islands
affirms that support for the Convention is based on the conviction
that persons with disabilities have "inherent dignity and worth" on
an equal basis with all other persons.
The Marshall Islands understands
that Article 10, [The Right to Life] guarantees "the Right to Life"
of disabled persons from the moment of conception and throughout
their lives until natural death.
The Marshall Islands accepts the
phrase "sexual and reproductive health" with the understanding that
it does not include abortion, that its use in Article 25 (a)
[Health] does not create any abortions rights, and cannot be
interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of
abortion and does not create and would not constitute recognition of
any new international law obligations or human rights.
The Marshall Islands is fully
committed to protecting the lives of persons with disabilities and
understands that paragraph 25 (f) is to be interpreted as ensuring
that such persons are not denied medical life preserving treatment
with the intent of ending their lives, and that they shall not be
denied food and fluids to preserve life, regardless of the method of