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Abortion, not Northern Ireland’s pro-life laws, is the real “violence against women”.

Posted by Liam Gibson on 28 February 2018

Witnessing outside the Supreme Court when it was considering claims that laws preventing the abortion of disabled babies violates the ECHR.

Over the weekend, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women said that the UK breaches the rights of women in Northern Ireland by unduly restricting their access to abortion. Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland development officer, says that abortion is the real violence against women.

None of the pronouncements of the United Nations Committee on the Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is legally binding. But just days after the committee condemned Northern Ireland's restrictions on abortion, the Province’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) rushed a copy of the committee’s report to the UK Supreme Court.

The Court is currently considering claims by the HRC that laws preventing the abortion of disabled babies and those conceived in rape violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The CEDAW committee goes even further declaring that restricting access to abortion is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The UK government, it says, is guilty of violence against women for not imposing the Abortion Act on Northern Ireland.

A right to abortion?

While the committee’s condemnation of Northern Ireland made news headlines, little in the report is actually new. It has repeatedly denounced countries which prohibit abortion even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises that children require “special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”. In fact, not one universal human rights treaty recognises a right to abortion.

So why has a UN human rights committee become a leading voice in a campaign to liberalise abortion laws across the globe?

A covert campaign

For decades the international abortion lobby has been demanding the re-interpretation of human rights treaties to recognise a right to abortion. A covert campaign to achieve this was revealed in 2003 when a strategy document from the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR) was leaked to US Congressman Christopher Smith. It stated that the CRR’s "goal is to see governments worldwide guarantee women’s reproductive rights out of recognition that they are bound to do so." Under the section heading "Gaps in existing norms A. Abortion" it states:

"We have been leaders in bringing arguments for a woman’s right to choose abortion within the rubric of international human rights. However, there is no binding hard norm [binding international law] that recognises women’s right to terminate a pregnancy. To argue that such a right exists, we have focused on interpretations of three categories of hard norms: the rights to life and health; the right to be free from discrimination; those rights that protect individual decision-making on private matters."

Inventing human rights

Despite admitting that access to abortion is not a human right, the document sets out a detailed plan to change this stating:

"This approach involves developing a jurisprudence that pushes the general understanding of existing, broadly accepted human rights law to encompass reproductive rights. Such a jurisprudence is developed primarily through:

  • Report to the treaty monitoring bodies;
  • Bring[ing] cases to international and regional adjudicative bodies; and
  • Bring[ing] claims based on international law to national-level courts [...]

"There are several advantages to relying primarily on interpretations of hard norms. As interpretations of norms acknowledging reproductive rights are repeated in international bodies, the legitimacy of these rights is reinforced. [...] Finally, there is a stealth quality to the work: we are achieving incremental recognition of values without a huge amount of scrutiny from the opposition."

Deliberate subversion

The subversion of international human rights agreements outlined by the CRR in 2003 has been incredibly successful. Both the case presently before the Supreme Court and the CEDAW report demanding the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland reflect this strategy.

Unsurprisingly, the CEDAW committee has been accused of inventing non-existent rights while failing to condemn genuine abuses. For example:

  • The Committee has interpreted the provision of health care and adequate nutrition during pregnancy as requiring Croatia and Italy to compel doctors to perform abortions despite a conscientious objection;
  • It claimed that Belarus breached the Convention by reinforcing traditional roles for women by celebrating Mother’s Day;
  • It condemned China for "perpetuating the identification of women with children" by naming its central policy-making bureau "The National Working Committee on Women and Children";
  • China was also chastised for labour laws that "overemphasise the protection of women";
  • It also directed China to increase the number of vasectomies to match the number of tubal ligations.

UN must condemn real atrocities

The integrity of the UN human rights apparatus has also been damaged by its silence on forced sterilisations and abortions in China, as well as the torture and imprisonment of women for their religious or political beliefs. These are just some of the atrocities faced by Chinese women which the CEDAW committee ignores.

Regardless of where it happens, abortion is an act of lethal violence directed at an unborn child and never justified. After 50 years of the Abortion Act, the evidence of the suffering abortion can cause to women is overwhelming. It is this violence which the UN must condemn if the human rights industry is to retain what’s left of its credibility.

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