‘Right to Life’ Should Mean Just That, Groups Tell U.N.

By Patrick Goodenough | December 10, 2008 | 4:56 AM EST

This photo of an unborn baby at 20 weeks is the centerpiece of Cardinal Edward Egan's diocesan newsletter, Oct. 23, 2008. (Used with permission of Life Issues Institute)

(CNSNews.com) – As the United Nations on Wednesday marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pro-lifers will hand over a petition signed by more than 367,000 people urging U.N. member states to interpret article three of the landmark declaration – which upholds “the right to life” – as protecting the unborn child from abortion.
The petition drive was launched as a response to a push by Marie Stopes International (MSI) and allied organizations to use the anniversary to call for “women’s access to legal, safe abortion to be recognized as a fundamental human right.”
MSI, which describes itself as “the world’s leading provider of safe abortion services,” initiated its petition campaign at a “global safe abortion conference” in London 14 months ago.
Attempts to establish how many signatures the MSI petition has garnered were unsuccessful, but a Web site dedicated to the campaign put the number Wednesday at 650. Many of the earlier signatories were participants at the Oct. 2007 conference, which drew some 800 activists and others from more than 60 countries.
MSI said earlier it planned to present its petition on December 10, when U.N. member states hold a special U.N. General Assembly to mark the anniversary of the UDHR’s adoption in 1948.
The pro-life petition was organized by the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).
“We are proud not only to match but far surpass the efforts of pro-abortion groups,” C-FAM president Austin Ruse said Thursday. “We launched our drive only two months ago and have generated more than 300,000 names from all over the world.”
Ruse said he expected MSI and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) to present several thousand names.
“This shows what we have known all along; that abortion is supported mostly by elites while every day people are for protecting the unborn child.”
The petition to be delivered Wednesday by C-FAM and other U.S. and European pro-life groups says the rights enshrined in the UDHR are inherent to every person and calls on governments to extend the right to life to all, including the unborn.
It also urges governments to protect the family as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society,” to provide special care and assistance to motherhood and childhood, and to promote the rights of parents to choose the type of education to be given to their children.
Available in 15 different languages, the petition has drawn more than 165,000 signatures in English alone, more than 80,000 in Spanish, more than 36,000 in Polish, and almost 32,000 each in Portuguese and French.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which invokes the UDHR, states that “the child … needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
But reproductive rights advocates say that since the UDHR does not explicitly refer to life in the womb, it applies only to individuals once they are born. They argue that restrictions on abortions may put a woman’s right to life at risk.
“It is intolerable that millions of women continue to suffer severe injuries and trauma, and more than 66,000 die needlessly each year from abortions that are procured unsafely from unskilled providers or self-induced, almost all in developing countries,” the MSI petition reads.
Also on Wednesday, a panel of human rights advocates, including a representative of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), will meet in New York to call on President-elect Obama and the U.S. Congress to “recommit” the U.S. to the rights and freedoms contained in the UDHR.
“The new administration has the opportunity to renew the U.S. commitment to ensuring that everyone can realize their fundamental rights, including the right to choose if and when to become a parent and to obtain safe and affordable reproductive healthcare,” said Cynthia Soohoo, director of the CRR’s U.S. Legal Program, in a statement.
Soohoo said it was time the U.S. embraced reproductive health policy guided by the principles of “dignity, self-determination, equality and access to adequate healthcare,” and not by ideology.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is moderating the panel, says that although the U.S. “was a leading voice in the creation of the UDHR, its policy and practice over the past 60 years has shown a failure to live up to these ideals.”
The ACLU is therefore marking the anniversary by seeking “to raise awareness of U.S. obligations and shortcomings under the UDHR and human rights law."
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow