The Human Rights Committee, a treaty body at the United Nations Office in Geneva, has adopted a document that would seek to require states to legalize abortion under certain conditions.
This document, known as General Comment No. 36, declares that “must” provide access to abortion in cases of rape, incest, health of the mother, and when the pregnancy “is not viable.”
General Comment No. 36 also calls on states to remove criminal sanctions on abortionists who provide illegal abortions. It calls on states to “remove existing barriers” to abortion and urges them “not introduce new barriers,” including “barriers” created by health care workers exercising their right to conscientious objection from being forced to perform an abortion contrary to their moral convictions or religious beliefs.
The Human Rights Committee is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR is one of the most widely adopted and highly esteemed international human rights treaties. General Comment No. 36 seeks to reinterpret the ‘right to life’ in the ICCPR to mean that states “must” provide abortion access under certain conditions.
However, the ICCPR never mentions abortion. To the contrary, the ICCPR guarantees the right to life for every human being:
“Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” (ICCPR, art. 6(1)).
The ICCPR also recognizes that the life of the unborn child should be protected from the execution of the death penalty:
“Sentence of death … shall not be carried out on pregnant women.”
General Comment No. 36 would seek to turn the ‘right to life’ on its head by claiming that the ‘right to life’ means a right to abortion.
States are legally bound by international law to observe treaties they have ratified or acceded to. From time to time, the Human Rights Committee will issue General Comments, documents which seek to elucidate how the Committee interprets certain provisions or thematic issues contained in the treaty. General Comments often provide states with what the Committee believes are their obligations under the treaty and provide recommendations for implementing the treaty.
General Comments are not binding on states. States are not required to follow the Human Rights Committee’s recommendations on how to implement the ICCPR.
Nevertheless, non-binding recommendations offered by the Human Right Committee often places pressure on states to legalize abortion or to weaken the enforcement of pro-life laws. With the adoption of General Comment No. 36, the Committee and other U.N. entities will be empowered to place significantly more pressure on sovereign states to legalize abortion. General Comments are more authoritative and esteemed documents than statements issued as part of concluding observations on state party reports. General Comment No. 36 is the first General Comment from a U.N. treaty body stipulating that all states “must” legalize abortion under specified circumstances. No prior statement or General Comment issued by a treaty body has been so precise or so widely applicable.
General Comment No. 36 will empower U.N. entities to urge state to legalize abortion under these enumerated circumstances under the false pretenses that states are required to do so under international human rights standards.
The Human Rights Committee’s attempt to turn the ‘right to life’ on its head by claiming that it means a right to abortion must be stopped. Please sign our petition to tell the Human Rights Committee that abortion is NOT a human right.