Seven years ago I travelled to New York with two friends to attend the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations headquarters. We joined a delegation of pro-lifers with a mission to represent and report. I attended, among other things, a session by then-director of International Planned Parenthood Dr. Jill Greer, which I wrote about in a couple of newspaper columns and later mentioned during my debate with Dr. Fraser Fellows of London, Ontario

It was an interesting week, to say the least, which dispelled any previously-held romantic notions of the United Nations possibly instilled by my degree in Social Work. It cemented my support for pro-life groups that monitor and affect debate at a social policy level because I witnessed first-hand what these organizations keep telling us: there’s enormous pressure to increase abortion on-demand around the globe. But we can make a difference. 

My thoughts went back to that week in New York when I recently received an email from the European Centre for Law & Justice, alerting us that the United Nations Human Rights Committee is in the process of revising the very definition of the right to life. In a 22-page document, the committee has drafted amendments to article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a globally recognized human rights document founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Of great historic significance is the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted in February of 1947 and adopted in December of 1948. Today’s world-renowned document which affirms each human being’s inalienable rights thus rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. Incomprehensible tragedy allowed us to see clearly that if we base human rights on anything other than our shared humanity, human beings will inevitably suffer.

That’s why I often refer to these documents, not to assert that the UN is pro-life but to make the case that the right to life is recognized as being inherent to “all members of the human family.” Moreover, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child has the right to life, defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years.” And since science confirms that each human life begins at fertilization, it only logically follows that the very youngest members of the human family must also have the right to life.      

With that in mind, reading the proposed amendments of the current Human Rights Committee may be mind-boggling. Consider the following: 

Although States parties may adopt measures designed to regulate terminations of pregnancy, such measures must not result in violation of the right to life of a pregnant woman or her other rights under the Covenant, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

How does regulating abortion violate a woman’s right to life? Is it cruel, inhuman, or degrading to lovingly support her through pregnancy, especially during difficult circumstances, while letting her child grow in the place he or she is supposed to be? And what about the child’s right to life? Is it not cruel, inhuman, and degrading to have his or her body suctioned or torn to pieces, to then be discarded as medical waste? 

The amendment continues: “Any legal restrictions on the ability of women to seek abortion must not, inter alia, [among other things] jeopardize their lives or subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering…” But we must ask which medical condition is resolved through an abortion The answer is none. Since medical problems can be addressed through medical procedures meant to heal rather than kill, how does restricting abortion, which kills rather than heals, jeopardize a woman’s life? 

(In case you are unfamiliar with the Dublin Declaration, look it up to see how over a thousand medical professionals declare that abortion is never medically necessary.) 

There’s much more that could be said, but let’s move to the end of the life spectrum. I remember thinking as a teenager that it was a bit of an exaggeration to say that since we don’t value pre-born life, all human lives are in danger. Yet here it is.   

States should take adequate measures, without violating their other Covenant obligations, to prevent suicides, especially among individuals in particularly vulnerable situations. At the same time, States parties [may allow] [should not prevent] medical professionals to provide medical treatment or the medical means in order to facilitate the termination of life of [catastrophically] afflicted adults, such as the mortally wounded or terminally ill, who experience severe physical or mental pain and suffering and wish to die with dignity.

In other words, let’s make sure a hurting person doesn’t jump off the bridge—and yes, we need more of that. Let’s talk people off the ledge or, even better, walk together so no one needs to come close to the bridge—but not so we can offer a physician-assisted death in the hospital! The right to life has never included the right to death, and asking the medical profession to help kill a patient rather than provide care and comfort is entirely contrary to the “Do No Harm” principle.    

We talk with many who bring up similar arguments (e.g. the life of the mother, difficult circumstances, terminal illness) and we work through them. The bottom line is that we should never kill fellow human beings to solve difficult situations, and countless Canadians have changed their mind in response to a solid, winsome case for life they hadn’t considered before. But the Human Rights Committee should know better: there’s no excuse for bad arguments when you’re responsible for revising a document that literally affects how nations treat their most vulnerable citizens. 

That reminds me of a secret session I attended in New York which an official of the United Nations Population Fund, assuming that we were pro-abortion, invited us to. We were brought to an undisclosed location where Planned Parenthood and UNFPA officials presented on how to propel abortion forward. Plenty of practical tips and guerilla tactics were shared, but it came down to three things. Go for the youth; help women obtain illegal abortions where it is restricted; and force UN member states to allow free abortion on-demand.   

Revising the definition of the right to life to include a woman’s right to abortion and anyone’s right to death is a powerful tool in that arsenal, but the biggest mistake to make is to assume that their victory is inevitable. I witnessed just small groups of pro-life people hold back the tide at the UN, petitions in hand with the names of people like yourself, which emboldened pro-life nations to stop policies that threaten their culture of life. 

That’s why, in conclusion, there are at least two things we can do: 

  1. Sign the ECLJ’s petition by Thursday, October 5th. The ECLJ has special consultative status before the UN and will submit a memorandum together with the petition to the Human Rights Committee on October 6th. 
  2. Activists or authorities can’t stop us from making a difference in our own communities. Start a meaningful conversation about abortion or visit someone who is sick, disabled, elderly, lonely, or otherwise vulnerable. 

For as Anne Frank once said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

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