U.S. Blitzed with Abortion Questions at Human Rights Committee

By | October 19, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 20 (C-Fam) UN human rights bureaucrats barraged the U.S. with questions about abortion this week during its periodic review by the UN Human Rights Committee.

The review, held in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday, is supposed to be a dialogue between experts who form the committee that reviews compliance with the treaty and a delegation from the Biden administration.

Though abortion is not a part of the treaty under review, committee members nonetheless grilled the U.S. about the status of abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. They asked how the U.S. was implementing a 2022 abortion guideline from the World Health Organization, that urges that governments to remove all laws restricting abortion or laws protecting the conscience rights of health care workers who object to participating in abortion.  They also inquired about when the U.S. would reinstate a national right to abortion.

U.S. delegates asserted the Biden administration’s priority to ensure access to what is euphemistically called reproductive health care that is really code for abortion, and highlighted efforts by individual American states to ensure availability of abortion post-Roe.  The Biden delegation did not object to the idea that abortion is an international human right, a claim made by the human rights bureaucrats at the UN. This lack of objection raises concerns among American legal experts since silence can be interpreted as acquiescence.

Prior to the meetings, the U.S. submitted a national report on its work to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report was written and submitted in the final weeks of the Trump administration and included strongly-worded denunciations of the treaty body’s overreach on the abortion issue: “As the United States has clearly stated on many occasions, there is no international human right to abortion, nor is there any duty on the part of States to finance, promote, facilitate, or provide abortion.”

The Trump administration’s report was largely ignored in the dialogue between the Biden administration’s delegation and the committee.  While the U.S. did not explicitly assert that abortion is an international human right, which has never been agreed by UN consensus, the delegation’s failure to push back on related questions and willingness to engage directly with questions based on the idea of abortion as a right is troubling to pro-life advocates.

Abortion groups have attempted to bypass international consensus by claiming that abortion is an international right due to customary international law, where the repeated assertion of a rights claim, without contestation, can lead to the acceptance of that claim as a right.  By not pushing back on the committee’s framing of abortion as a right, the U.S. was contributing to that process.

Despite the U.S. delegation’s insistence that it is working to ensure abortion availability and affirm the rights of people who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+, many civil society members who advocate for these and other issues were in attendance at the review, many of whom stood and turned their backs in protest at the conclusion of the meeting, frustrated by what they saw as the inefficiency of the U.S.’s responses.

One protester quipped that responses generated by artificial intelligence would have been more substantive than those given by the U.S. delegation.