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UN human rights body defends abortion under 'right to life.' One expert calls it 'preposterous.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is looking to define abortion as a human right, according to an advanced draft of a "general comment" on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has vigorously defended abortion in an advanced draft of a "general comment" on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Interestingly, the language championing abortion falls under a "right to life" heading.

Crux — which covers the Vatican and the Catholic Church — said a “general comment” is a UN agency’s interpretation of provisions in treaties to which it is a party (such as the aforementioned "covenant").

What does the UN human rights body's general comment say about abortion?

  • The comment said states must not adopt restrictions on abortion that violate "the right to life of a pregnant woman or girl, or her other rights under the Covenant."
  • It also said that states must guarantee "safe, legal and effective access to abortion where the life and health of the pregnant woman or girl is at risk, or where carrying a pregnancy to term would cause the pregnant woman or girl substantial pain or suffering, most notably where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or is not viable."
  • The comment also said that states "should not take measures such as criminalizing pregnancies by unmarried women or apply criminal sanctions against women and girls undergoing abortion ... or against medical service providers assisting them in doing so, since taking such measures compel women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion."
  • In addition, the comment said that states should guarantee men, women, and even boys and girls access to "quality and evidence-based information and education about sexual and reproductive health ... and to a wide range of affordable contraceptive methods and prevent stigmatization of women and girls seeking abortion."
  • The comment also said that states "should remove existing barriers ... that deny effective access by women and girls to safe and legal abortion ... including barriers caused as a result of the exercise of conscientious objection by individual medical providers." It isn't clear if that means the UN human rights commission calls for forcing doctors to provide abortions even if they don't wish to.

What does one expert have to say about the matter?

“First of all, the UN Human Rights Committee has no power to create human rights,” Mary Ann Glendon — a Harvard professor, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and specialist in human rights in international law — told Crux. “It is a body of experts with the sole duty of monitoring compliance by member states with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”

She added to the outlet that the committee's declaration that abortion is a “fundamental human right, and its preposterous claim that abortion rights are derived from the right to life protected by the ICCPR, show how susceptible UN bodies are to lobbying by interest groups that would like to see their agenda items recognized as universal rights.”

Glendon also told Crux that “current attempts to expand the category of human rights are undermining the idea of universality. Sadly, they are producing widespread skepticism about the continuing validity of the post-World War II human rights project that brought hope and freedom to millions around the world.”

Crux noted that even though the general comment isn't legally binding, it "won’t prevent the bodies that enforce the treaty, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to use it when ruling on specific cases."

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