UN General Assembly Told That Every
Nation Must Legalize Abortion
By Paul Stark and Jeanne Head, R.N.
On October 24 the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to
Health, Anand Grover, presented his latest report to the Third
Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York. Mr. Grover’s
report explicitly calls for every nation to “decriminalize abortion”
on the grounds that abortion restrictions violate the right to
health protected “by international human rights law.” The report
drastically exceeds the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and is fraught
Mr. Grover had bypassed the Human Rights Council in Geneva by
sending his report directly to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who
transmitted it to the General Assembly, stating that he had the
“honour” of doing so.
After the Special Rapporteur’s presentation at the October 24
meeting, the report was praised by the European Union countries,
Norway, South Africa, and the United States. Several pro-life
countries strongly objected: Chile, Swaziland, Egypt, Honduras, and
The Holy See.
Egypt’s delegate criticized Mr. Grover’s “systematic attempts to
reinterpret internationally agreed conventions.” The delegate from
Swaziland noted that the report largely ignores the Special
Rapporteur’s mandate. Rather than concentrating on health-related
issues such as hunger and disease, the report focuses on a
“non-existent right to abortion.”
The Holy See said the report is simply wrong in claiming that
abortion restrictions violate the right to health. In fact, the
delegate explained, “the very opposite is the case: abortion is
itself a violation of the right to health both of the unborn child
and of the mother.” Chile’s delegate emphasized the importance of
recognizing the right to life of all human beings, including the
It would be a mistake to assume from the number who intervened in
opposition to Mr. Grover’s report that every other country supports
it, particularly the 135 countries whose laws provide some
protection for unborn children. Since the October 24 meeting,
contacts made with at least 78 delegates from 66 countries revealed
that all disagree with the Grover document.
In his report, Mr. Grover claims: “Criminal laws penalizing and
restricting induced abortion are the paradigmatic examples of
impermissible barriers to the realization of women’s right to health
and must be eliminated.” The report goes even further by condemning
a number of modest regulations of abortion, including informed
consent laws, parental involvement requirements, bans on government
funding of abortion, and protections of the conscience rights of
pro-life health care workers. These measures “serve to reinforce the
stigma that abortion is an objectionable practice,” Mr. Grover
The report also alleges that legal restrictions do not significantly
influence the incidence of abortion, and that they serve only to
make the procedure less safe, leading to health complications and
death for many women.
The Special Rapporteur and his supporters are wrong on all counts.
An important new document called the San Jose Articles (www.sanjosearticles.com),
drafted by international experts and launched at the UN Headquarters
in New York on October 6, notes with extensive evidence that “there
exists no right to abortion under international law, either by way
of treaty obligation or under customary international law.” Mr.
Grover is blatantly wrong to suggest otherwise.
On the contrary, international law protects the dignity of every
human being, including the unborn. The International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights states, “Every human being has the
inherent right to life.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child
says children require “appropriate legal protection, before as well
as after birth.” The science of embryology shows that the human
embryo or fetus is a distinct, living and whole organism of the
human species; therefore, he or she is due the same respect and
protection as every other member of the human family. The killing of
unborn human beings by abortion should not be permitted.
The San Jose Articles will support and assist those pro-life
countries that are under enormous pressure by UN Treaty Compliance
Committees and others who tell them they are required to legalize
abortion under international law. The CEDAW (Convention on the
Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) Compliance
Committee alone has pressured more than 83 countries to legalize
Mr. Grover’s report is also mistaken about the effect of abortion
laws on the incidence of abortion: Legalizing abortion has the clear
consequence of increasing the number of abortions that occur.
Moreover, worldwide evidence shows that legalized abortion does
nothing to solve the problem of maternal mortality, which can only
be addressed by improving maternal health care—a crucial goal that
the Special Rapporteur only mentions in passing. Women in developing
countries need better medical care throughout pregnancy, at delivery
and postpartum. They do not need abortion.
Abortion, in fact, poses serious physical and psychological risks to
pregnant women, whether it is legal or illegal. These risks are
exacerbated in countries where basic health care is lacking; the
legalization of abortion in such countries—triggering an increase in
demand—will likely lead to more women suffering and dying from
abortion. The above facts are explained in more detail in “Why
legalized abortion is not good for women’s health” (available at
Rather than focusing on ways to improve maternal health, Mr. Grover
and others at the United Nations are pushing a radical agenda to
promote and expand abortion all around the globe. This agenda must
be opposed for the sake of women and their unborn children.
Editor’s note. Paul Stark is Communications Associate for Minnesota
Citizens Concerned for Life GO (Global Outreach). Jeanne Head is
National Right to Life’s Vice President for International Affairs
and UN Representative for National Right to Life.