Protection of Unborn With Disabilities May Be Included In New UN Document

In a victory for advocates of the unborn, the latest draft of a document submitted to the United Nations to protect the rights of people with disabilities contains strong language condemning state-mandated abortions on the basis of “pre-natal diagnosis of disability.” The inclusion of pro-life language is a defeat for some delegations officials who had insisted that only the lives of those “who have been born and are now living on this earth” receive protection.

The document also contains controversial language that could be used to justify a right to abortion. Article 14 of the convention says persons with disabilities must “have access to information, reproductive and family planning education, and the means necessary to enable them to exercise these rights.” On another score sources close to the drafting process told the Friday Fax that a proposal that would have made special note of homosexuals with disabilities was rejected.

A UN committee is in the middle of a two-week negotiation over the final details of the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities though it is not expected to be complete for another year. Work on the convention began in July 2002 and UN officials say its intent is to secure “full participation of persons with disabilities in economic, social and political life, and development on the basis of equality.”

More than 400 people from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government organizations are present at the meetings. Whether or not NGOs would be allowed had been a point of contention leading up to the meeting of the committee. In early June, Luis Gallegos, Ecuador‘s Ambassador to the UN and committee chairman, announced that NGOs would not be allowed to attend the current session. Most close to the situation believe UN officials thought NGOs would significantly slow down progress on the document. Following the announcement some NGOs attempted and failed to expel organizations advocating protections for the unborn and people with disabilities who might be targeted for euthanasia.

The pro-life language of the convention is found in Article 8, “Right to Life, Survival and Development.” In three separate sections of Article 8 the sanctity and need to protect the life of those with disabilities is stated emphatically. “States Parties recognize and protect the inherent right to life of all persons with disabilities. . .” “Disability is not a justification for the termination of life.” “States Parties shall undertake effective measures to the prohibition of compulsory abortion at the instance of the State based on pre-natal diagnosis of disability.” But even as authors of the convention concede that an unborn child ought not be aborted because she is disabled, they seem intent on guarantying that the disabled be able to have abortions themselves. The use of the phrase “reproductive and family planning” in Article 14 is troubling because in UN parlance such language implies abortion rights.