Experts Warn U.S. Senate About Disabilities Treaty

By Lisa Correnti and Wendy Wright | November 7, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC, November 8 (C-FAM) Experts warned the US Senate this week that a pending UN treaty could be used to advance a right to abortion and interfere with the rights of parents.

No one can “guarantee that there will never be a lawsuit asserting that the [Disabilities treaty] creates certain abortion rights,” said Professor Timothy Meyer. Nor “can one guarantee the [UN] committee on disabilities will not take such a position,” said the former U.S. State Department advisor.

Senators are considering ratifying the treaty on the rights of people with disabilities, which fell short of passage last year when conservatives rallied against it over concerns it may jeopardize national sovereignty, unborn children and parental rights to care for disabled children.

The treaty uses the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” which some say includes abortion. Dr. Susan Yoshihara, who helped negotiate the treaty, testified that term was mired in controversy during the treaty’s drafting, and has become more so since.

In the past ten years, UN committees that monitor nations’ compliance with treaties have used the phrase “to pressure more than 90 countries over 120 times to liberalize abortion, even though no UN treaty mentioned reproductive health or rights, let alone abortion,” Dr. Yoshihara testified. The Disabilities treaty committee is showing the same disregard for the treaty’s limits and nations’ sovereignty, said the senior vice president of C-FAM. It has taken Spain and Hungary to task for their limits on abortion.

She explained how the term was “railroaded” into the treaty despite objections by 23 countries. These objections were omitted from the treaty paperwork sent by the Obama administration to the Senate.

Senator Bob Corker asked the experts if strong reservations, or amendments, could adequately address the problems.

“I have to say that I am not optimistic that we can be fully inoculated,” responded Dr. Yoshihara. “Customary international law evolves internationally through other court decisions.”

“We could certainly make a reservation or an understanding on this,” she continued, “but the Disabilities committee is already ignoring those reservations.”

Several Republican senators raised concerns over judicial activists misusing treaties and courts not honoring Senate reservations. In a 2005 decision on the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court cited a part of a UN treaty that the United States explicitly rejected in a reservation when it ratified the treaty.  

Across the street just hours before the hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Bond v United States, which questions whether treaties can give officials sweeping authority. Carol Bond spread a toxic substance that burned the thumb of her husband’s lover. Federal prosecutors charged her with violating a federal law implementing a chemical weapons treaty. Her attorneys argue officials relied on a treaty to go beyond their constitutional limits and trespass into local matters.

Justice Scalia suggested the federal government was arguing for such expansive power, reported journalist Lyle Dennison, that the U.S. could join in a treaty approving same-sex marriage and require Congress pass a law imposing it on all the states.

At the hearing, former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh was asked about the Bond case. Thornburgh, who testified that reservations would be adequate protection against treaty abuses, said he was surprised by case, stating the Department of Justice doesn’t always act wisely.

Senator Jeff Flake concluded it would be prudent to wait on the Supreme Court ruling before moving forward with ratification.