Comments on a General Comment

17/10/2017 / Featured 

This past summer, the United Nations Human Rights Committee released a draft of a General Comment that, if accepted, would amend the current explanation of the “right to life”. This amendment would ignore the UN’s current recognition of the rights of pre-born children, essentially declaring a right to abortion. The Human Rights Committee has been steadily trying to advance abortion rights into international law, but this marked a bold step for them. It violates the sanctity of life, ignores basic international law, and imposes their ideological agenda on governments around the world.

Background on the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment

It is the Human Rights Committee’s job to interpret a document called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (or the “Covenant”). The Covenant is a list of human rights that 169 countries have agreed to honour. The Human Rights Committee was created to interpret the Covenant in two main ways. First, individuals can bring their country to the Committee to determine whether a right was breached. Secondly, the Human Rights Committee will issue documents called “General Comments” which elaborate on a right and explain how governments must act to protect the right.

The General Comment in question includes an explanation of the right to life in the context of abortion. The Committee starts from the position that governments cannot legislate abortion in a way that violates the right to life of a pregnant woman. In their opinion, this means governments “must provide safe access to abortion” where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or in cases where the pre-born child suffers from a fatal illness.  They go on to compel governments to ensure that women will not “have to undertake unsafe abortions,” and conclude by stating that governments must provide prenatal and post-abortive health care, with no mention of postnatal care.

Commenting on the General Comment

Before finalizing the General Comment, the Human Rights Committee welcomes comments from a variety of sources. As such, we submitted comments on October 5 arguing three main points.

First, we argued that the Human Rights Committee needs to acknowledge the right to life for pre-born children in this General Comment. Arguing that life begins at conception and that human rights are inherent in all human beings regardless of age or size, we pointed out that this is already recognized in the Covenant. This right to life of vulnerable persons needs legal protection.

Secondly, we argued that a correct legal interpretation of the Covenant is consistent with a recognition of the right to life for the pre-born and is inconsistent with a right to abortion. The Human Rights Committee uses vague language creating a broad requirement for governments to provide access to abortion. This interpretation is not grounded in the Covenant nor in international law generally.

Thirdly, we argued the Human Rights Committee was not honouring governments’ ability to regulate abortion independently. There are countries that restrict access to abortion because they respect the right to life of the pre-born. The inviolable nature of the right to life is a foundational moral question – one that has been and continues to be foundational for the UN itself. The Human Rights Committee does not have the authority to compel governments to ignore the right to life of the pre-born.

Many others also wrote to the Human Rights Committee in defense of the right to life of the pre-born. It is our hope that the Committee will read these submissions and be persuaded to edit the proposed General Comment in such a way that maintains the recognition of the right to life of the pre-born.


Thank you to Tabitha Ewert, articling student with ARPA Canada, for this guest post.

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