National Right to Life: Fighting for Life at the United Nations

By Jeanne E. Head, R.N.

Editor’s note. This first appeared in the Winter edition of National Right to Life News. If you are not a subscriber, call us at 202-626-8828.

(Left to right) Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative; Scott Fischbach, MCCL GO Executive Director; and Patrick Buckley, with the U.K. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

(Left to right) Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative; Scott Fischbach, MCCL GO Executive Director; and Patrick Buckley, with the U.K. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

As a nongovernmental organization, representatives of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) have supported international pro-life educational and service programs and monitored United Nations conferences and activities from the beginning. However, NRLC dramatically increased involvement in United Nations activities in 1994.

That is when it became evident that the Clinton Administration and its pro-abortion allies planned to use the United Nations 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development to promote abortion as a fundamental human right worldwide. Pope John Paul II was so alarmed by plans for the conference that he called on all people of good will, regardless of denomination, to become involved in the Cairo Conference.

NRLC went to work. In addition to sending a team to Cairo to educate the delegates, we had a very popular informational booth in the NGO Forum, presented three educational panels, issued 13 position papers, held two press conferences, and our main representative gave a speech to the main Plenary of the Conference.

In Cairo, the Clinton Administration and its pro-abortion allies did not succeed in their aim of making abortion a way of death everywhere in the world. And, so far the international pro-abortion movement has not succeeded in establishing abortion as an international “human right.” However, that doesn’t mean the anti-life forces have stopped trying. They have continued to promote their agenda at every one of the numerous major UN Conferences and UN negotiated meetings held since Cairo.

NRLC has been a key player during negotiations of these United Nations forums in New York and Geneva and in other venues throughout the world such as Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Mexico City, Rome, and San Juan which, in addition to Cairo, including the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women and all critical UN Conferences and Conventions (Treaties), as well as meetings of the UN General Assembly in New York and of the Human Rights and World Health Assembly in Geneva.

However, when it became apparent to the abortion promoters that they could not openly achieve their purpose through the legitimate UN government negotiating process where the majority of countries are pro-life, the pro-abortion crowd turned to stealth and deception. UN agencies such as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, the World Health Organization, and UN Treaty Compliance Committees as well as powerful, well-funded, non-governmental organizations such as the Center for Reproductive Rights, International Planned Parenthood, and the International Women’s Health Coalition have become increasingly bold.

They have re-defined certain code words, and by misinterpreting the meaning of terms, such as “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” which were only accepted by pro-life governments with the clear understanding that they did not include a right to abortion. In fact the Cairo document stated emphatically in its Preamble that it “does not create any new international human rights” and no subsequent UN negotiated document stated otherwise. Despite this, abortion promoters tell countries that abortion is an international right as a tool to pressure pro-life countries to legalize abortion.

In addition, contrary to extensive worldwide evidence, they continue to perpetuate the lie that it is necessary to legalize abortion to save women’s lives. Accurate studies show that maternal mortality is determined to a much greater extent by the overall quality of maternal health care than by the legal status or availability of abortion. In fact legalizing abortion actually threatens women’s lives, particularly in the developing world where adequate maternal health care is scarce or not available at all.

Unfortunately for the women and children who will suffer unnecessary injury and death, the pro-abortion forces have convinced several pro-life countries to change their abortion laws very frequently with our tax dollars, using the argument that abortion “saves women’s lives.”

As I told the UN General Assembly in my speech to its Final Plenary for the 1999 five-year-review of the Cairo Conference: “Women in many parts of the world need clean water, nutrition, and basic health care for themselves and their families—not the ‘right’ to violently destroy their children before they are born.”

In addition to preventing the establishment of the right to abortion as a fundamental human right worldwide in any UN negotiated document, the NRLC, along with our Pro-Life and Pro-Family Coalition partners, has experience other successes such as:

Prevention of the establishment of forced pregnancy (denial of abortion) as a war crime or a crime against humanity in the 1998 Rome Statute (Treaty)—the legal basis for establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court; passage, by the UN General Assembly in 2005, of the historic United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning which calls on member states to ban all forms of human cloning; and inclusion of important language in the UN Convention (Treaty) on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Adopted in the 2006 by UN General Assembly it included language that for the first time in any UN negotiated document instructs States Parties to “prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.”

While we have made progress, the powerful and well funded pro-abortion forces, unfortunately, have made too much progress toward their deadly agenda of establishing abortion as a fundamental human right worldwide. They won’t give up and we can’t give up. We have to and must stop them.

Jeanne E. Head, R.N., is NRLC’s vice president for international affairs and UN representative.