By Marie Smith, Director, Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI)
The latest example of a U.N. treaty monitoring body distorting a treaty to advance abortion is the Committee on the Convention Against Torture (CAT) during its 52nd Session in Geneva. This time around, committee members-officially called experts-chastised the Holy See for its opposition to abortion during its review of the Holy See’s report on compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture, CAT). Committee members stated that pro-life opposition to abortion results in torture for women. The archived webcast of the review can be found at www.treatybodywebcast.org/cat-52nd-session-holy-see/#podPressPlayerSpace_1
Abortion, an act that results in the often painful death of a child in the womb and which can inflict lasting negative emotional, physical and psychological consequences on the woman, is real torture but the experts chose to ignore these facts, focusing instead on the Catholic Church’s respect for the right to life and opposition to abortion.
Felice Gaer, Vice-Chairperson of the CAT Committee from the U.S.A., stated,
“This committee has found repeatedly that laws that criminalize the termination of pregnancy in all circumstances can violate the terms of the convention.”
The CAT Committee has ‘found’ this interpretation because it has conjured up such findings with help from leading pro-abortion legal activists including the Center for Reproductive Rights and Amnesty International which continually promote a so-called ‘right to abortion’ despite the fact that no international treaty says it is.
The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a “shadow report” on the Holy See to the CAT Committee-more aptly called a ‘treaty distorting body’ in this case- which was critical of the Catholic Church’s core belief that the right to life begins at the moment of conception and that induced abortion violates that right. The report also was critical of the Holy See for its support of actions to promote a culture of life in law and policy.
The report mentioned past actions of the CAT Committee which condemned sovereign States for enacting bans on abortion and mentioned the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)’s recent review of the Holy See which was also critical of the Catholic Church’s position on abortion claiming failure to allow access to abortion “places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls” despite the fact that the CRC’s preamble states, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
Papal Nuncio Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, was prepared for such criticism by the CAT Committee and explained that the Catholic Church’s pro-life position protected human rights, “The Holy See’s goal is to prevent children from being tortured or killed before birth, as is stipulated in the Convention”. His prepared statement included reference to the number of babies who have survived abortion:
For example, in Canada, 622 living babies were delivered after failed abortion attempts, between 2000 and 2001. 66 such cases were registered in the UK in 2005. Some methods of late-term abortions constitute forms of torture, particularly in the case of dilation and evacuation, where ‘the fetus, still alive, is dismembered to be pulled out of the womb in pieces.’
Past condemnation of laws against abortion by the CAT Committee included against Paraguay in 2011 when the committee criticized a law that banned abortion in cases of rape, incest or for disability of the child stating such laws amount to torture for women who “are constantly reminded of the violation committed against them, which causes serious traumatic stress and carries a risk of long-lasting psychological problems.” In 2009 Nicaragua was told by the CAT Committee that it needed to “revise its legal framework in relation to abortion,” observing that the ban on abortion “exposes women and girls to a constant threat of serious violations to their rights, particularly if continuation of the pregnancy posed a threat to their life, or for victims of rape.”
Amnesty International concurs which such reinterpretation of the treaty and stated, “The Committee is sending a clear message to the Nicaraguan state: So long as the complete ban with no exceptions is in place, you will be in breach of your international legal obligations to protect human rights.”
In 2013 the CAT Committee Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez issued a report that was highly critical of laws against abortion: “The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture.”
The CAT Committee will issue Recommendations or Concluding Observations to the Holy See which will likely include changing its stand against abortion. Such statements are seen by some as instructions that a State must follow in order to be compliant with the treaty. Others are aware that treaty body committees are known to distort the original intent of a treaty and give little credibility to these observations.
Recommendations suggested to the Committee by the Center for Reproductive Rights demonstrate that pro-abortion bias and include the following recommendations:
Note that the Holy See has failed in its obligation to refrain from instigating, inciting, encouraging, or acquiescing in torture or ill-treatment, and has failed to provide particular protections for women from torture or ill-treatment, by publicly condemning women who have undergone abortions and doctors who perform abortions, in an attempt to stigmatize abortions that are needed to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights and prevent torture and ill-treatment. Note that this is a violation of the Holy See’s obligations under Articles 1, 2, and 16 of the Convention against Torture and urge the Holy See to refrain from taking actions which interfere in the decisions of women and girls about whether to undergo an abortion.
Note that the Holy See has negatively interfered with states’ attempts to develop legislation on abortion that would have served to better protect women from torture or ill-treatment. Note that the Holy See’s actions are a violation of Articles 1, 2, and 16 of the Convention against Torture and that the rights of freedom of speech and of religion extend only so far as they do not undermine women’s reproductive rights, including the right to be free from torture or ill-treatment. Urge the Holy See to refrain from negatively interfering publicly or privately in women’s and legislators’ decisions concerning access to abortion and to support states as they attempt to align their policies on women’s reproductive rights with their obligations under the Convention.
Urge the Holy See to review its position on abortion in order to permit abortion for women and girls, including when their lives and physical or mental health are at risk, when there is a non-viable fetus, when they are the victims of sexual violence, or any other circumstance in which they experience severe physical or mental pain or suffering.
The CAT Committee announced that it will issue its Recommendations and Concluding Observations to the Holy See on Friday, May 23.
PNCI notes that the CAT Committee has not only ignored the violence of abortion and the torture that it inflicts upon the defenseless child in the womb but it has failed to recognize the unique ‘torture’ that women who deeply regret their abortion face every day.
PNCI urges pro-life lawmakers to closely monitor the Concluding Observations issued by treaty body committees to their country and voice opposition to pro-abortion recommendations.