The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the global abortion provider co-founded by US-based Planned Parenthood Federation of America, recently issued a primer to help affiliated “Member Associations” and abortion-rights activists navigate abortion laws around the world. In addition, the 87-page publication provides guidance on how “to advocate for the removal of restrictions” on abortion, such as by arguing that international treaties should be interpreted broadly to trump national laws.The primer, entitled “Access to Safe Abortion: A Tool for Assessing Legal and Other Obstacles,” claims that international legal support for abortion “can be found in numerous international treaties and other instruments” as well as in customary international law, which is non-treaty law “that is established from the practices and beliefs of nations” evolving over time.
A detailed chart sets forth articles from “Important treaties, covenants, conventions, declarations and programmes of action which address the abortion issue” which IPPF asserts can be used to support abortion rights.
None of the enumerated treaties or conventions, which are legally binding on governments that ratify them, mentions the term abortion, however. Treaties are documents negotiated by sovereign states, many of which proscribed abortion at the time of ratification. Where silent on a subject, treaties are intended to leave the domestic laws of ratifying nations unchanged, in accordance with traditional principles of interpretation.
Among the assertions made by IPPF is that the “right to life” language in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that “Every human being has the inherent right to life,” actually requires a right to abortion.
With respect to non-binding documents, IPPF offers a similarly expansive reading. For example, IPPF interprets the term “reproductive health,” as adopted in the non-binding Programme of Action of the International Conference of Population and Development issuing from the 1994 United Nations (UN) conference in Cairo, to include abortion. Conceding that abortion “is not mentioned” in connection with the phrase, IPPF claims that it “can be interpreted as including the right to abortion,” attributing opposition to this as coming from countries like the United States and the “Vatican.”
Language in the Cairo document itself indicates a more limited interpretation, however. Paragraph 7.24 states that “Governments should take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning.”
Paragraph 8.25 similarly appears to undercut an argument that the document can be used to impose a “right to abortion” upon sovereign nations: “Any measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process.”
IPPF, together with its many national branches, is one of the world’s largest providers of abortion. Last year it received over $115 million in grants from individual nations, the European Commission, UN agencies like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and various foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.