C-FAM Senior Fellow Warns European Parliament Against Manipulating International Law

At the European Union in Brussels this week, C-FAM Senior Fellow Douglas A. Sylva testified before the European parliamentary committee on women's rights and gender equality, urging them to resist efforts by pro-abortion advocates to manipulate international law. He warned that giving in to those who would abuse international law to advance abortion risks undermining the consent of nations which undergirds the legal system.

At the public hearing chaired by Anna Zaborska, Member of the European Parliament from Slovakia, speakers on both sides of the abortion debate addressed the topic of sexual and reproductive health and rights, a confusing term that has been used to advance abortion. Abortion advocates from International Planned Parenthood and the ASTRA Network called for the EU institutions to make reproductive rights a priority and called for the removal of barriers to sexuality education, access to contraception and abortion. 

Wanda Nowicka of the ASTRA Network based her argument for abortion on the UN's Beijing Platform for Action and a handful of EU reports, using these as evidence of what she called "international consensus" on "reproductive rights." Nowicka also claimed that religious fundamentalism was an obstacle to the spread of contraception and the acceptance of abortion and asked Member States to base their policies on "scientific evidence, not on religious ideology."

Sylva refuted all of her claims by reminding the committee that there are no binding international legal instruments which establish a right to abortion, and pointed out that reproductive health advocates acknowledge as much. According to Sylva, abortion advocates also admit that getting such a binding law would be impossible given widespread opposition and so they have turned to an alternate approach that claims to make "settled international law in the face of unsettled international debate."

This "soft law" strategy devised in the mid-1990s by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Division for the Advancement of Women consists chiefly of using interpretive recommendations made by treaty monitoring bodies which are charged with overseeing state compliance to UN conventions and treaties. Rather than sticking to the terms of treaties that were negotiated by sovereign states, the treaty monitoring bodies were taught how to "find" rights, such as a right to abortion, embedded within already existing human rights. Sylva charges that this strategy has been increasingly applied over the last ten years with at least sixty nations being pressured by the six treaty bodies to legalize or increase access to abortion.

The problem with this approach, Sylva warned the committee, is that erodes nations' trust in the system. Sylva explains, "If member states believe that specific commitments they have ratified can expand, and expand in a manner without national oversight, they may grow distrustful of the entire regime of international law. It is therefore in the best interests of the UN system that international law should only reflect explicit consensus between and among national actors."

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