San José Articles scotch myth of abortion as 'human right'

A series of principles, drawn from international law by eminent jurists, refute the mythical idea now asserted by some international agencies that abortion is somehow a human right.

The San José Articles, as the principles are known, were launched on Monday in the House of Lords by two Catholic peers, David Alton and Nicholas Windsor, who is a member of the Royal Family. (Lord Alton writes here; Lord Windsor, who is chairman of the Human Dignity Institute in Rome, writes here.) 

The Articles, drawn up in the Costa Rican capital in March, are intended to be used as a tool to help countries around the world facing sometimes powerful pressure from international bodies to legalise abortion. Of the 125 countries which have strong legal protections for the unborn child, 93 have come under pressure from organisations falsely arguing that abortion is an international human right. (This pressure, exercised by UN agencies, is a violation of religious freedom, as Cristina Odone points out here.) 

Costa Rica was chosen to launch the Articles, explained Lord Alton, because it was a country, like many others, "which is constantly being told that they are antediluvian, bigoted and out of step with the rest of the world and need to change their laws because somehow they are in breach of what is proclaimed internationally. And when you get down to it, you find there is nothing proclaimed internationally."

No right to abortion exists in international law.

Abortion is not mentioned in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, because it was not thought necessary to do so, Lord Windsor said on Monday. But the Declaration contains many tangential references to rights of the unborn child as when, for example, it prohibits the death penalty for pregnant women.

In other words, where there is a inference on abortion to be drawn from international jurisprudence, it is against, not in favour, of abortion.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that no right to abortion exists in the European Convention. 

Yet in spite of this, international agencies have bullied and harrassed small nations, often threatening to curtail aid, using the specious claim that abortion is an international human right. Fiona Bruce MP, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said aid to poor countries aimed at improving women's health was often "inextricably linked to the provision of abortion" and said the San José Articles would help those countries argue against such linkage.

In October 2006, for example, when the Nicaraguan Assembly debated a motion to ban "therapeutic" abortion, the ambassadors to Nicaragua of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, as well as representatives of the UK and Canadian governments and UN agencies such as WHO and UNFPA, Unicef and the UN Development Programme as well as the UN Food and Agriculture agency signed a joint letter in which they urged that the vote be postponed on the grounds that the new abortion law would affect the lives of women. Nicaragua refused to conform, and Sweden withdrew its assistance  in retribution.

The Articles can be downloaded with their comprehensive notes as a PDF here. They note in Article 6 that

Treaty monitoring bodies have no authority, either under the treaties that created them or under general international law, to interpret these treaties in ways that create new state obligations or that alter the substance of the treaties. Accordingly, any such body that interprets a treaty to include a right to abortion acts beyond its authority and contrary to its mandate. Such ultra vires acts do not create any legal obligations for states parties to the treaty, nor should states accept them as contributing to the formation of new customary international law.

Lord Alton said the signatories were drawn from "right across the political and religious spectrum", including some of no religious belief. The text, said Lord Windsor, makes no reference to religion and is "an argument from reason and the law".

"What matters is the text", he said. 

The signatories hope that the Articles will be referred to in the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, as well as domestic legislatures, and be incorporated into sovereign domestic law -- as has happened, for example, in Hungary. But they are mainly intended as reference points for countries to resist pressure from agencies such as WHO, UNFPA and Amnesty International who now regularly claim, entirely spuriously, that abortion is an international human right.

"This allows us to take on organisations and agencies who have changed the terms of debate without the decisions of national governments, eroding the rights of sovereign nations, and changing by sleight of hand what was previously agreed and accepted", said Lord Alton.

He added that "small gaggles of officials who are accountable to no-one and who often place themselves in these positions because of the views that they hold, have been promoting something that is out of keeping with their own national parliaments and the views of the vast majority of people living in those nations."

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