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Pro-Abortion Strategy Calls New Attention to International Agreements

David Thibault | Managing Editor | Monday, December 22, 2003

Pro-Abortion Strategy Calls New Attention to International Agreements

(CNSNews.com) - The recent publication of internal strategy memos belonging to one of America's most aggressive abortion-rights groups reveal a growing effort to have abortion recognized as an international human right, and that has led one pro-life activist to question whether "international negotiations on social policy can ever be the same again."

Until an anonymous source handed the memos belonging to the a href="http://www.crlp.org/ab_bios.html#nn Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) over to the pro-life Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute the pro-abortion strategy was unclear, several pro-life sources told CNSNews.com.

But the memos are now available for the world to see after U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), one of the staunchest pro-life members of Congress, placed them in the Congressional Record on Dec. 8.

Among other things, the memos acknowledge that "there is a stealth quality to [CRR's] work: we are achieving incremental recognition of values without a huge amount of scrutiny from the opposition."

While CRR's strategy may have been secretive, its goals are ambitious

The CRR International Legal Program's "overarching goal is to ensure that governments worldwide guarantee reproductive rights out of an understanding that they are legally bound to do so," according to the strategy memos.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee are cited in the memos as "quasi-judicial" forums that "arguably offer the most promising venues for securing justice and interpretations" favorable to the pro-abortion movement.

The memos also conclude that "the European human rights system, the African system and other U.N. individual complaint mechanisms will be particularly important in the next 3-5 years."

Pro-life activists say the CRR memos show the need for skepticism about international agreements designed to improve human rights.

"It's becoming a pattern internationally -- to take things that were never regarded as human rights ... or even wrongs and turn them into a human right, and then declare it as an international human right and then pressure governments to change their laws to remove any prohibitions against that," Thomas Jacobson, manager of the United Nations department at the pro-life group Focus on the Family, told CNSNews.com .

"The Center for Reproductive Rights has been working very hard to make abortion a so-called international human right and to use that then as a club to pressure nations to legalize and fund abortions," he added.

The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) monitors the activities of United Nations related programs like UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), to which the Bush administration has denied taxpayer funding, and international treaties like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Douglas Sylva, vice president of C-FAM, described CEDAW as "kind of like a supreme court with no check on their authority."

The CEDAW compliance committee has "repeatedly told countries to legalize abortion. It has repeatedly told countries to legalize prostitution. It tells countries that they need to lessen the influence of the Catholic Church," Sylva said. "They are the final arbiters of what that CEDAW convention actually means."

Sylva fears that this international pressure will eventually affect the United States.

"Not only are these conventions and treaties coming into force. But the ultimate goal is to make them applicable to countries even if they don't ratify them," Sylva said, pointing to the CEDAW treaty, which the United States has not ratified."

Debunking parental rights

Among the "possible elements" of CRR's strategy is one to "debunk the extent of parental rights currently recognized" in order to allow adolescents total access to abortion. Another item listed in the memos suggests that abortion might have to be argued as an international human right even in the United States if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or weakens the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"What we see here is that this abortion rights agenda is so radical that it trumps everything else, including national sovereignty, including the will of decision makers, including the will of voters," said Sylva, who told CNSNews.com that his organization and others have received letters from CRR ordering them to cease and desist in the distribution of the memos.

Jacobson confirmed that his group had also received the letter from CRR.

"I know it is a cease-and-desist request. Of course it's not a court order. We are going to ignore it," Jacobson said. Neither Sylva nor Jacobson had heard any threat of legal action coming from CRR.

Shortly after C-FAM publicized the memos, CRR President Nancy Northup reportedly complained that the disclosure "has caused, and further disclosure will cause CRR irreparable harm."

"The truth hurts. They are always appalled when someone exposes the hypocrisy, [duplicity] and deceitful behavior," Rep. Smith told CNSNews.com . "My hope is that if enough people read this, they will not be duped and this will act initially as an energizer and an additional wake-up call if one were necessary."

The CRR documents also indicate that the group is aware of the gaps that exist in the argument of why abortion ought to be recognized as an international human right. "There is no binding hard norm that recognizes women's right to terminate a pregnancy," the memos concede.

"Hard norms" or legal norms refer to the provisions in international treaties. CRR makes clear it also needs to concentrate on "soft norms" or judicial interpretations of those international agreements to achieve its goals. But here too, "the global community has fallen short of recognizing a right to independent decision making in abortion," the CRR memos acknowledge.

"These are internal documents meant for internal consumption. And what they admit amongst themselves is that it's all a house of cards ... that there are huge gaps in their agenda - that they really haven't established an international right to abortion and that this is all duplicity," Sylva said.

'Nothing to defend'

Ellen Sweet, communications director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, had little to say about the memos and their release to the public.

"There's nothing to defend," Sweet said. "It's not worth defending."

As for Smith's decision to include the CRR memos in the Congressional Record, Sweet would only say that it was "his prerogative as a representative." Smith's criticism of the CRR strategy, according to Sweet, represented "one person's interpretation of what we do."

Chris DeCardy, communications director for the Packard Foundation, which has donated $2.57 million to CRR over the last three years, also refused to comment directly about the CRR strategy memos, how they ended up in the possession of C-FAM officials or the decision by Congressman Smith to place the memos in the Congressional Record.

"It certainly is not our purview as a foundation to get involved or to comment on the different aspects of something as specific as an organization that has a different mission from another organization and who comes up with what type of documentation that ends up being utilized for particular political purposes," DeCardy said.

Any concerns Packard Foundation officials might have about the CRR memos would not be publicized, DeCardy said. "That would be a conversation that we would have with any grantee at any point along the line, directly with them and I'm in no means saying that we have any concerns in this instance.

"We're very clear about our support for CRR. We've given them a significant grant for conducting their work ... we've supported the organization with other grants as far back as 1993," he added.

But pro-life activists like C-FAM's Sylva expect the CRR memos to provide a big difference the next time abortion is discussed in an international setting.

"What we will be able to say is, 'look, be careful of all of these strange phrases that find repetition throughout these documents. They mean more than you think they do. And look, we have the memos from the other side saying what they mean.' I think that's going to be very powerful."

Pro-Abortion Lobby 'Loves to Deceive,' Congressman Charges (Dec. 22, 2003)

See Earlier Stories:
Memos Outlining Abortion Strategy Land in Congressional Record
Abortions Anonymous, for Kids: Memo Reveals Group's 'Priority'