By Stefano Gennarini
Abortion groups have found a new champion. His name is Juan Mendez, and he is a UN expert on torture. In his latest report to the UN he goes out of his way to characterize protective abortion laws as a form of torture.
Laws against abortion are directly responsible for “prison overcrowding”, “tremendous and lasting” physical and emotional suffering, and subject women and girls to “humiliating and judgmental attitudes”, according Mendez’s’ latest report to the Human Rights Council.
This isn’t the first time the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has issued outlandish recommendations. What is perhaps surprising is how insistently Mendez makes his claims this time around.
According to Mendez states must “[d]ecriminalize abortion and ensure access to legal and safe abortions, at a minimum in cases of rape, incest and severe or fatal fetal impairment and where the life or physical or mental health of the mother is at risk” (emphasis added).
Stressing access in this context is a way to deny conscience protections to health-care providers and mandate abortion coverage from health-care providers. But this is not enough.
Mendez’ insistence on abortion is remarkable. The word “abortion” appears 24 times in his latest report on torture, or 21 more times than the word “police”—the kind of state actors that are normally the perpetrators of torture.
According to Mendez states must also “(s)et forth clear guidance on implementing domestic abortion legislation and ensure that it is interpreted broadly” (emphasis added).
The attempt to instruct governments on how they should interpret their laws is quite novel. It suggests an even further expansive interpretation of what constitutes torture for UN experts.
The definition of torture in the UN torture convention requires action or inaction by a state or state official to extract information or to punish individuals. But experts like Mendez and the UN committee against torture have expanded the meaning of torture to cover any and all areas of legislation and action by states.
The UN experts like to read new rights into the treaty, and to expand the obligations of the treaty in order to hold governments responsible for the conduct of private actors, and even for laws that cannot be considered even remotely a form of torture, as is the case with laws that prohibit or regulate abortion.
Mendez’ report will find critics also because of the poor and ambiguous substantiation of his claims.
Mendez cites a 4-year-old Guttmacher study to say that “(u)nsafe abortion is the third leading cause of maternal death globally,” even though WHO has drastically reduced estimates of maternal deaths resulting from botched abortions since the publication of that study, and also cautions that any estimates of deaths from “unsafe” abortions are very rough.
Moreover, his claims are based entirely on his own previous reports on torture or non-binding interpretations of treaties by UN experts that similarly ignore the meaning of the words in the treaties, as they have always been understood.
Just like Mendez, the Committee Against Torture notably criticized the Vatican only a couple of years ago for its theology and doctrine against abortion, saying that it constitutes a form of torture, and then backtracked when it became clear that the Vatican would claim this as a direct interference with religious freedom.
Editor’s note. This appeared at C-Fam [https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/denial-abortion-torture-un-bureaucrat-says].