Today (Sunday, December 10th) is Human Rights Day. I’m really happy to see so many of my Facebook friends – notably my NDP and Green Party Facebook friends – posting information about human rights and drawing attention to the importance of acknowledging and celebrating Human Right’s Day.
And this year’s Human Rights Day is special: it kicks off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enacted in 1948, a milestone document that proclaimed the “…inalienable rights which EVERYONE (my emphasis) is inherently entitled to as a human being.”
What I find really unfortunate, however – even “tragic” – is that there are many people celebrating Human Rights Day who erroneously believe that one “human right” included in the UN Declaration is the “right to abortion,” which is absolutely not the case. The United Nations did not declare abortion to be a “human right” in its 1948 Declaration – it wasn’t even mentioned – nor has it done so in any other subsequent document dealing with human rights.
On the other hand, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly intended that unborn children would be afforded the same protections as other groups of human beings. The only reason why unborn children were not explicitly mentioned or “named” in the document is for the same reason other categories of human beings were not explicitly mentioned or “named” in the document – because the inclusive style of the document focused on “generic” categories, not “specific” categories, and it therefore used terms like “race,” “gender,” etc., rather than “blacks,” “women,” etc. Similarly, unborn children were included under the general category “birth or other status” which was written into the document. Conversely, nowhere were unborn children singled out as an “excluded” group of human beings.
Although many Islanders are passionately dedicated to supporting social justice campaigns and work to protect and enhance human rights, they have, I believe, unwittingly accepted a revisionist and distorted understanding of what the United Nations (UN) actually intended with its Declaration of Human Rights regarding the need for us to recognize that “unborn children” have full membership in our human family and should therefore enjoy the same universal rights as other groups of human beings.
Others believe the UN chose to remain “neutral” and actually offered no guidance on whether unborn children should enjoy the same rights which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives to other groups of human beings. But the UN didn’t remain neutral……and it did indeed offer guidance. So how do we explain today’s social amnesia about this critically-important issue and the widespread objection within our society and world to granting unborn children these basic human rights, most importantly, the “right to life”?
The sheer force of cultural conformity in a capitalist society that practically worships individualism, regards human beings as competing automatons, and constantly tells us we have no right to interfere with whatever other people want to do, can be incredibly powerful and intimidating. However, because unborn children are both socially invisible and voiceless, we need to get the facts correct about what the UN said or didn’t say concerning abortion and the rights of unborn children. As recently-deceased U.S. Democratic Senator Patrick Moynihan stated: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
If you’re interested in exploring this important issue more thoroughly to gain a better historical understanding of how political and cultural forces have gradually removed unborn children from consideration whenever international law and human rights documents are referenced, read Rita Joseph’s book Human Rights and the Unborn Child. Or, if that’s too daunting a task, you can read this Book Review; and if that’s still too onerous, here’s a short summation to give you some idea of what the book’s about:
“This challenging volume gathers a selection of the mass of material available from the major human rights instruments, from first drafts, legislative histories, and contemporary commentaries, from more recent scholarship as well as from the General Comments and Concluding Observations and Recommendations of the various treaty monitoring bodies relating to the topic of the unborn child. Contemporary reinterpretations of these documents are held up to the searchlight of historical context, including a reminder of the original purpose and meaning and the philosophical foundation of modern international human rights law.”
Again, it is critical that we realize that the UN has never declared abortion to be a fundamental, essential or inalienable human right; nor has the Supreme Court ever ruled that there is a “constitutional” right to abortion in Canada, despite the fact that many [including “Justin,” but not “Pierre”] Trudeau, and our former Minister of Health, Robert Henderson (when announcing the Women’s Wellness Centre in Summerside) have claimed so.
On the other hand, the UN has many times “implicitly” included unborn children within the general category of “human beings,” and several times “explicitly” so, as can be seen from the following excerpts taken from the Preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that came into force in 1990. That document more or less identifies itself as an extension of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, specifically with children in mind, so let’s be consistent and make sure that when we celebrate Human Rights Day we don’t make the mistake of ignoring or deliberately excluding “unborn children” from enjoying the same rights as human beings belonging to a different age “status”; e.g., born babies; toddlers; pre-teens; teens; adults; etc.
FROM THE PREAMBLE OF THE UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
“Recognizing that the United Nations has, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenants on Human Rights, proclaimed and agreed that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, WITHOUT DISTINCTION OF ANY KIND (My emphasis), such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, BIRTH OR OTHER STATUS (My emphasis),…….[AND]
“Bearing in mind that the need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 AND RECOGNIZED IN THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (My emphasis), in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in particular in articles 23 and 24), in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in particular in article 10) and in the statutes and relevant instruments of specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children, [AND]
Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, BEFORE AS WELL AS AFTER BIRTH [My emphasis]”
HAPPY HUMAN RIGHTS DAY!