New York-based public interest law firm Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) released its 2008 Annual Report this week, touting efforts to promote abortion worldwide and listing yearly revenue of nearly $13 million.
The report highlights a global caseload that appears disproportionately directed at expanding access to abortion and contraceptives in traditionally Catholic countries. Its 2008 docket includes three proceedings each against Poland and Peru, and two each against Mexico and Costa Rica, in fora ranging from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to national Supreme Courts.
The report also singles out efforts in the Philippines to force public authorities to distribute contraceptives. After a series of defeats in Filipino courts, CRR turned to the United Nations (UN) compliance committee tasked with monitoring implementation of International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). According to CRR, the ICESCR committee issued a "forceful statement" as a result of its efforts urging the government "to expand access to family planning" and "reconsider its stance on abortion."
Critics contend that seeking to foist favored policy outcomes on nations whose constitutions and laws protect unborn life misuses international instruments. Treaties like ICESCR are silent as to abortion, and when nations negotiated the document, it was not intended to address the issue. Yet when rebuffed by national courts, advocacy organizations like CRR turn to UN compliance committees, which are often staffed with like-minded proponents of transnational norms at odds with traditional social views. Such committees issue non-binding opinions that exceed their mandates, which advocacy groups then trumpet to create an impression that an international "obligation" exists.
The annual report also lists reduction of maternal mortality as one of CRR’s policy objectives, linking this effort to its global advocacy of abortion liberalization.
A recent overview of maternal death statistics challenges the correlation between abortion liberalization and maternal mortality reduction, however. International Planned Parenthood Federation recently admitted an alarming "surge" in maternal deaths in South Africa, which has coincided with liberal access to abortion. The nation with the lowest African maternal mortality rate, Mauritius, has one of the most restrictive laws on abortion. Likewise, Chile, which protects unborn life in its Constitution, has the lowest maternal mortality rate in South America, and Guyana, which has allowed abortion virtually without restriction since 1995, has the highest.
According to the Annual Report, the largest contributors to CRR in 2008 included the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Picower Foundation, with grants totaling over half a million dollars each. Other large donors included the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the John Merck Fund, which was founded by family members of the pharmaceutical giant, Merck.
A comparison of the 2008 annual report with the prior year’s reveals a drop in revenue in over $1 million, attributable to a significant reduction in donated legal services. Though grants from large foundations increased, one significant source will not be available in future years: the Picower Foundation closed its doors last December after entrusting its assets to fraudster Bernard Madoff.