European Countries Use Human Rights Review to Demand U.S. Foreign Aid for Overseas Abortions

By | May 14, 2015

NEW YORK May 15 (C-Fam) Five European countries told the U.S. on Monday to re-interpret a federal ban on funding overseas abortion to instead provide international abortions.

Others urged the U.S. to do more to impose homosexual and transgender rights, including prohibiting religious-based exemptions and rights. Others demanded the U.S. commit to additional UN treaties that the government has specifically declined to ratify.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a fairly new process at the UN for countries to review other countries on their compliance with UN human rights treaties. The U.S. took its turn in Geneva to present its progress report and be scrutinized.

Foreign delegates gave recommendations to the U.S., such as on foreign and domestic data surveillance, detention and interrogation of terror suspects, and allegations of police brutality toward minorities. Many urged the U.S. to outlaw capital punishment. One country asked for the explicit prohibition of corporal punishment at home and in schools. And a handful called on U.S. foreign aid to provide abortions on babies conceived by rape in conflict overseas.

The UPR bases its understanding of human rights on international documents such as UN treaties – many of which the U.S. has not ratified since its existing laws provide a higher standard of protection. More controversially, the UPR also relies upon the recommendations of treaty monitoring bodies – committees of experts with a long record of interpreting treaties beyond the text itself, such as pressuring countries to liberalize their abortion laws.

Foreign delegates expressed disappointment that the U.S. has not ratified any further treaties since the first UPR cycle in 2010, despite the Obama administration’s stated hopes of doing so.

Like the treaty bodies, the UPR has become politicized around social issues, and organizations like the Sexual Rights Initiative explicitly lobby for it to be used to promote homosexuality and abortion.

The U.S. delegation began its presentation by highlighting its work on sexual orientation and gender identity. Several countries congratulated the U.S. for its work in this area, although Sweden said religious-based objections on lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues need to align with what it called international standards. No UN treaty creates this right, yet advocates claim they do.

On abortion, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium and France complained about the longstanding law prohibiting U.S. foreign aid from paying for abortions overseas. They urged the U.S. to reinterpret this restriction for cases of wartime rape, repeating the call made by Norway alone in the first UPR cycle.

The U.S. responded that it is committed to providing women’s health care, “including abortion,” and the government “regularly reviews” its policies to ensure it is taking “all appropriate measures” in that regard.

The Holy See did not mention abortion or protecting the unborn, but did call on the U.S. to ensure robust protections for religious liberty, including the right of conscientious objection, as well as protecting migrants, racial harmony, and a moratorium on the death penalty.

With regard to treaty ratifications, U.S. delegation head Mary McLeod said that the Obama administration wants to ratify the UN treaties on women’s rights and persons with disabilities “with limited reservations” – but requires the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate to proceed.

Last fall, U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton stated that treaty ratification appears unlikely, “not for lack of trying, but for absence of support.”