Monday, October 24, 2011

The right to life of unborn babies in international law

The San Jose Articles which were launched on 6th October 2011 at the UN in New York and subsequently in London and Madrid are available in English Spanish German and French. The articles are a declaration on the rights of the unborn child and they are designed as a challenge to claims by UN officials that there exists in international law a right to abortion. 
According to the website 

The San Jose articles were created to help governments and civil society promote human rights through a proper understanding of how the rights of the unborn child are protected in international law. The articles should be used to counter false assertions, such as the erroneous notion that abortion is a human right.

LEGISLATORS AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS should use the San Jose Articles to help channel international aid to maternal and child health care programs which ensure a healthy outcome of pregnancy for both mother and child and to justify the withholding of funds which violate the right to life of the unborn child from conception.
John Smeaton in his BLOG points out that the declaration 
is the latest in a series of initiatives by various organizations over recent years – including the Amnesty for Babies’ initiatives and others – which insist that international human rights agreements uphold the right to life of unborn children.

The signatories include Professor Robert George of Princeton, former US Ambassador Grover Joseph Rees, Professor John Finnis of Oxford, Professor John Haldane of the University of St. Andrews, Francisco Tatad, the former majority leader of the Philippine Senate, Javier Borrego, former Judge of the European Court of Human Rights, and Professor Carter Snead of UNESCO’s international committee on bioethics.

As Professor George pointed out, they can be used to oppose the work of UN officials “who say falsely that governments are required by international law to repeal domestic laws protecting human beings in the embryonic and fetal stages of development against the violence of abortion”.

Like the Amnesty for Babies’ launch at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2006, the San Jose Articles were launched in the presence of representatives of the Holy See. The Holy See’s presence at such events witnesses to the fundamental importance of the Catholic Church – with its unequivocal defence of the value and inviolability of human life – for the pro-life movement worldwide.

History will judge the strength or otherwise of this or of that initiative. For example, the San Jose Articles can be used, with its list of distinguished signatories, to oppose the work of UN compliance committees which are seeking to put pressure on developing countries to legalize abortion by falsely representing the meaning of international agreements.

Equally, the World scientists' and physicians' declaration on human rights for nascent human beings, launched in October 2008, can be used to develop support for ethical scientific research which respects, in the words of the declaration “the inherent rights of human embryos and foetuses during our quest for beneficial knowledge, just as we respect the inviolable and inalienable rights of children and adults."

And the Amnesty for Babies petition, launched in June 2006, provides legislators with the opportunity of signing a petition to members of the United Nations general assembly. The petition calls on nations to ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child before as well as after birth; and to adopt all measures necessary to protect adequately human life and dignity in the application of life sciences.

On the other hand, reasonable disappointment has been expressed that, after three years, more scientists and physicians have not been found to support the world scientists’ and physicians’ declaration, and that, after five years, more legislators have not been found to support the unequivocal defence of the right to life expressed by the legislators’ Amnesty for Babies’ petition.

Equally, reasonable disappointment has been expressed by pro-life observers, myself included, that the San Jose articles contain a conclusion which needs to be stronger. In Article 8, it’s not sufficient to declare that laws “may and should [my emphasis] invoke treaty provisions guaranteeing the right to life as encompassing a state responsibility to protect the unborn child from abortion”.

Analogy helps in such cases. It would have been wholly inadequate for the world to have told South Africa 30 years ago that “it may and should end apartheid”. It was rightly warned by world’s nations that it must do so. "Should" is ambiguous, expressing either an obligation or an aspiration.

Proponents of the culture of death are not so inhibited. In September 2010 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ban Ki Moon the UN Secretary General, and Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, launched a report “on discrimination against women, in law and practice, and how the issue is addressed throughout the United Nations human rights system”. In that report they called for the policing of nations worldwide to “address the refusal of physicians to perform legal abortions”.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the professional body in the UK governing pharmacists, rules that health professionals, with a conscientious objection to, say, abortifacient products, must refer patients seeking them to health professionals with no such objection.

The truth is that the obligation is exactly the other way round: the right to life must be upheld and abortions must not be facilitated. If we fail to insist on that obligation the pro-life movement will, ultimately, complete succumb to the superior force (force majeure) being used against us.