There is no basis for claiming a “right to abortion” in international law, a human rights lawyer explained at a major pro-life summit held in Brazil from Nov. 3-6.
“This is (the) strategy of the opposition – manipulate the truth by claiming that there is a global right to abortion and repeat it over and over again,” said Piero A. Tozzi, senior legal council at the Alliance Defense Fund, in a speech to Human Life International's Second International Congress for Truth and Life.
“Repeated enough, perception becomes reality,” he warned, as he described the attempt to raise non-binding statements about abortion “rights” into “something that must be followed and obeyed.”
Tozzi's Nov. 6 speech to the congress, which met at St. Benedict's Monastery in downtown Sao Paolo, came as a bill advanced in Argentina's legislature that would legalize abortion for any reason within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It would also allow girls as young as 14 to abort a child without parental consent, and fund free abortions in public hospitals.
“A number of well-known 'human rights' organizations have stressed their support, as have certain members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, claiming that there is a 'right' to abortion under international law,” explained Tozzi.
But he went on to explain that the claimed “right” is a fabrication that was not thought to exist in global conventions or treaties until quite recently.
“As recently as 2005, it was the position of one of the human rights organizations that supports changing the Argentine law – Amnesty International – that 'there is no generally accepted right to abortion in international human rights law,'” he said, quoting from Amnesty's own Feb. 2005 report “Women, Violence and Health.”
By 2008, however, Amnesty was claiming that Mexico would violate its “international human rights obligations” by repealing a law that liberalized abortion access in Mexico City.
“What had changed between 2005 and 2008 in international human rights law?” asked Tozzi. “Absolutely nothing.”
The only change, he said, was “a 2006 policy decision by Amnesty International to go from neutrality on the issue of abortion to one of advocacy.”
The Alliance Defense Fund senior council went on to explain that the norms of international conduct have two main sources: treaties, and “customary international law.” The first relies on states' explicit agreements, while the second derives from generally accepted practices.
Neither of these two sources, he said, gives evidence for an international “right” to abortion. In fact, he noted, several international agreements say the opposite.
He cited the American Convention on Human Rights, also known as the “Pact of San Jose,” which affirms the right to life “from conception.”
Tozzi also pointed to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which not only upholds a right to life but also singles out pregnant women as one of two groups – along with minor children – to whom the death penalty can never apply. In the case of pregnant women, he said, this is because the child is understood as a separate person whose life should be spared.
Similarly, he noted, the U.N.'s Convention on the Rights of the Child declares that children need “special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”
In terms of international law's second source—generally accepted customs—Tozzi said several countries' pro-life legislative efforts and achievements showed the lack of such an acceptance of abortion.
“A number of nations have tightened the laws on abortion, Russia most recently,” he said. “In 2009 the Dominican Republic’s government passed a constitutional amendment protecting life from conception; so too have more than half the Mexican states.” He noted that East Timor and Hungary have both adopted similar protections in recent years.
Even the outcome document of the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference, a non-binding source of guidance that caused controversy over the issue of abortion, did not speak of it as a right.
Instead, Tozzi noted, the document says that “where legal, it should be safe,” but that each country should be allowed to decide the matter for itself according to the idea of national sovereignty.
“But the pro-abortion strategy does not respect this principle,” observed Tozzi. “Instead, they bring lawsuits and count on activist judges to do their work.”
In an interview with CNA after his speech, Tozzi said pro-life advocates must be ready to correct those who speak of abortion as a right in international law.
“If, as often happens, groups claim that there's a right to abortion, it's important that people say 'No,' that there is not,” the international human rights lawyer advised.
“There is no such thing in international law as a 'right to abortion.' This is a concept that is completely fabricated by abortion advocates and their supporters in transnational organizations such as the United Nations.”
The assertion of such a right, he said, relies upon “the manipulation of language – to take something that is clear, such as protection 'from conception,' and twist it into its opposite.”
“It's really the spirit of relativism,” he said, calling the strategy an “attack upon the truth as well as upon unborn life.”