(CNSNews.com) – Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said if confirmed as the next Secretary of State, he would support making the United States a party to a United Nations convention that has been repeatedly used to advocate for abortions, oppose restrictions and support government funding across the globe.
The treaty, UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 but has never been ratified by the Senate.
During Thursday’s confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked, “You have been a supporter of CEDAW before, the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. I know it’s a tough issue here. I don’t think it should be, but it is. I just want to make sure you continue to support the ratification.”
Kerry said he would support this and other treaties.
“The answer is yes,” Kerry told Boxer. “And let me just say on that I look forward to meeting with the committee privately some time, hopefully down at the State Department, and we can talk about treaties and America’s interest, and I look forward to that.”
Boxer responded with enthusiasm.
“Good, because I think there could be some reservations that we could agree on that could resolve some of the underlying current of disagreement here, which I think we should move forward on it,” Boxer said.
CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
Nations who are parties to the treaty have obligations that include, “to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;” “to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination;” and “to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises,” according to the U.N.
Shortly after his first election in 2008, President-elect Barack Obama said he would urge the Senate to ratify CEDAW.
On March 25, 2009, the National Right to Life Committee wrote a letter to all senators in opposition to CEDAW, particularly citing Article 12 of the convention that says, “State Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.”
“Since about 1995, Article 12 and other provisions have been creatively interpreted by official bodies, ranging from the European Parliament to the U.N. CEDAW Committee, to condemn limitations on abortion, on grounds that any restrictions on abortion are per se discrimination against women,” said the National Right to Life letter to senators.
That has been a problem both at home and abroad, according to the NLRC letter.
“Already, two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justice Breyer) have cited CEDA W to buttress a legal point, even though the Senate has never ratified CEDAW. [Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 344-346 (2003)],” the letter said. “If the Senate ratifies CEDAW, litigants will employ CEDAW in future legal challenges to federal and state enactments that touch on abortion, and they are likely to find a greater number of jurists who will give legal weight to such arguments.”
The UN CEDAW compliance committee has criticized at least 67 different countries for laws restricting abortion, including Ireland and Poland, the June 2009 letter said.
“The CEDAW Committee also has explicitly held that nations should provide public funding of abortion, and even has criticized nations that have laws in place to allow medical professionals to opt out of providing abortions,” the letter said.
“In 2007 the CEDAW Committee urged Poland ‘to ensure that women seeking legal abortion have access to it, and that their access is not limited by the use of the conscientious objection clause.’ In 2008, the Committee called on Slovakia to ‘regulate the invocation of conscientious objection by health professionals so as to ensure that women's access to health and reproductive health is not limited,’” the letter added.
The letter went on to state, “In 2002, the European Parliament voted to adopt a sweeping report calling for removal of all limitations to abortion by European Union members such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and by nations then seeking membership. The report cited CEDA Was grounds for its assertion that there is an ‘international legal framework’ under which all European Union nations should recognize abortion as a ‘fundamental right.’”
In late 2008, a report by the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama said the administration would urge the Senate to ratify CEDAW. “The agreement is an important tool to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, ensure women and girls receive equitable access to education and health care, and secure access to the legal system for women and girls if their human rights have been violated.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, criticized CEDAW for potentially threatening U.S. sovereignty and pointing to its ineffectiveness in other countries.
“CEDAW is ineffective and inappropriate instrument for advancing women’s rights,” the
January 2009 Heritage Foundation report said. “It has accomplished little to improve women’s rights in some of the most oppressive nations that have ratified it, such as Saudi Arabia.”