UN Committee Says Nations May Not Exclude Abortion from “Reproductive Health”

By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. | October 4, 2018

NEW YORK, October 5 (C-Fam) A UN committee denounced Malta’s laws protecting children from abortion as a violation of the human right to sexual and reproductive health.

The UN committee that monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said Malta may not exclude abortion from the term “sexual and reproductive health” as the country did in a formal reservation it made when ratifying the treaty.

The committee’s action confirms that the term was inserted in the treaty as a stalking horse for abortion rights, as nations with protective laws feared when the agreement was negotiated twelve years ago.

Article 25 of the treaty requires States parties to “Provide persons with disabilities with the same range, quality, and standard of free or affordable health care and programs as provided to other persons, including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programs.”

When Malta signed the treaty in 2007 it lodged a reservation saying, “Malta understands that the phrase ‘sexual and reproductive health’ in Art 25 (a) of the Convention does not constitute recognition of any new international law obligation, does not create any abortion rights, and cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion.”

Malta told the committee the interpretation was “the result of the country’s overarching national policy under which abortion was illegal. The Government did not plan to amend the legislation governing termination of pregnancy, although it was aware that social trends in that regard were evolving.”

The committee disregarded this, telling Malta to withdraw the reservation and implying that it was never valid. While the committee’s opinion is not binding, it will be used by abortion groups and activist judges to challenge Malta’s abortion laws.

During the treaty’s final negotiation, the term “sexual and reproductive health” was rammed through over the objections of twenty-three nations who feared it would be construed as creating an international right to abortion.

At the time, European delegations characterized such objections as unfounded and overblown. They reassured delegates that the treaty did not create any new rights and would only be used to promote nondiscrimination in health care.

According to an eye-witness account, the chair of the negotiation asked delegates for a show of hands to see if any of them thought the controversial term created any new rights. No hands were raised.

To further assuage delegations, a footnote was added stating that the inclusion of the term in the treaty “would not constitute recognition of any new international law obligations or human rights.”

Even with the footnote, in a statement when the General Assembly adopted the treaty, the U.S. objected to the use of the term “sexual and reproductive health” that was nearly identical to Malta’s reservation. Twelve other nations followed suit, and no delegations contradicted them. In fact, Canada stated that the treaty did not create new rights.

When President Barak Obama asked the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty in 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Let’s be clear: The Disabilities Convention is a non-discrimination treaty. It won’t create any new rights that do not otherwise exist in our domestic law.”

The U.S. Senate rejected ratification, in part because Kerry could not say if reservations would protect the U.S. from the imposition of a human right to abortion.

Two other European nations, Poland and Lithuania, have similar reservations on the controversial term. El Salvador’s reservation was attacked by Sweden, Germany, and Switzerland for six years until that country withdrew it in 2015.