Pro-Life Intervention of the Holy See at the UN General Assembly

By Stefano Gennarini, J.D. | September 16, 2020

The Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, Archibishop Gabriele Caccia, delivered a marvelous pro-life statement at the UN General Assembly last Friday as the international body adopted a comprehensive resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. and Israel voted against the resolution, and many other delegations made strong reservations on this and that aspect of the resolution. The U.S. cited its opposition to the term “sexual and reproductive health” among the reasons it voted against the resolution, as well as anti-Israel bias, and its ongoing tiff with the World Health Organization. The resolution has only praise for the World Health Organization.

Rather than excoriate the U.S. government like the European Union and supposed allies like Australia and the United Kingdom, the Holy See was more measured in its remarks and expressed solidarity with U.S. pro-life concerns, adding a host of other pro-life concerns also, including concern for the right to life of the elderly, surrogacy, ethical issues with the COVID-19 vaccine trials, etc.

Eerily, no other UN delegation brought up concerns for the right to life of the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s like a closely held secret that the elderly are, in the end, disposable. Thankfully the Holy See continues to act as the conscience of humanity.

Here are some highlights from the statement:

It is deeply regrettable that this omnibus resolution, launched as a means of showing the world that the General Assembly stands as one and of bringing together many COVID-related initiatives, is adopted lacking consensus. Unfortunately, the grave challenges caused by virtual negotiations and the substantially divergent positions of delegations on a number of issues in the text brought this about. Like many others, the Holy See would have preferred to see much more time given to discussions – also in smaller groups and on a bilateral level – on the difficult issues. Even when challenging and time-consuming, consensus should always be our goal.

As for the specific content of the resolution, my Delegation would like to make the following points:

• Extensive immunization could be a global public good, provided that vaccines not only are adequate, safe, quality, efficacious and effective, but also and especially are “free from ethical concerns” and available to all.

• We regret the exclusion of faith-based organizations from the list of those who play an important role in response to the pandemic. Through their hospitals, clinics, schools, universities, and charitable organizations FBOs support people on the ground, especially those most affected by the pandemic.

• Furthermore, religious leaders are crucial in promoting dialogue and tolerance. The wording, however, of preambular paragraph 5 and operative paragraph 4 should have followed applicable, agreed language from consensual resolutions of the General Assembly to ensure the safeguarding of freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression in this context. Additional discussions on the text on faith-based organizations and religious leaders should have taken place.

• We welcome that the resolution gives attention to human rights issues. Unfortunately, this focus is hampered by a lack of precision in terminology and in its grounding in international human rights law (PP5, PP21, OP21, OP28).

• The inclusion of specific references to older persons in the text is crucial, considering the impact the pandemic has had on the elderly in many countries (PP21, OP21). This concern should have been buttressed by stressing that healthcare decisions affecting older persons should always respect their right to life and never be interpreted otherwise.

The Holy See also repeated its oft-repeated reservation on “reproductive health.”

In particular, the Holy See rejects the interpretation that considers abortion or access to abortion, sex-selective abortion, abortion of fetuses diagnosed with health challenges, maternal surrogacy, and sterilization as dimensions of “reproductive health,” or as part of universal health coverage.