Parliamentary Network E-News

Volume 13
No. 9
November, 2019
Defending Life
U.S. Opposes Promotion of Abortion at UNFPA Meeting
The U.S. delegation to UNFPA's Nairobi Summit on ICPD 25-marking the 25th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)-led opposition to efforts to use the contentious meeting to advance access to abortion as an international right. In a joint statement on behalf of the U.S., Brazil, Belarus, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Libya, Poland, Senegal, St. Lucia, and Uganda, Valerie Huber, head of the U.S. delegation and Special Representative for Global Women's Health in the Office of Global Affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services expressed the concerns of the countries, especially in regard to "the content of some of the key priorities of this Summit."
The joint statement specifically mentioned that the countries "do not support references in international documents to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which do not enjoy international consensus, nor contemplates the reservations and caveats incorporated into the Cairo outcome. In addition, the use of the term SRHR may be used to actively promote practices like abortion. There is no international right to abortion; in fact, international law clearly states that "[e]veryone has the right to life" (e.g. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)."
The countries' statement recited text from the ICPD Programme of Action which clearly demonstrated global concern over abortion including, "The ICPD notes that countries should 'take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning' (ICPD 7.24) and to 'reduce the recourse to abortion' strongly affirming that '... [a]ny measures or changes related to abortion within the health system can only be determined at the national or local level according to the national legislative process' (ICPD paragraph 8.25)."
In remarks that confirmed the concern over the abortion agenda at the summit, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rightsexpressed her pro-abortion position as the highest human rights advocate for the UN stating "even where there has been a much needed prioritization of maternal health issues, we see a failure to enable access to safe abortion".
She continued to express her view that abortion is a "human right" stating, "We need to overcome resistance to the sexual and reproductive health and rights, which are such a key part of human rights law and of the ICPD's programme of action. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. They are not new rights, and they are not optional. They are intrinsic to a range of internationally binding treaties."
To illustrate her view she referenced the legalization of abortion in Ireland saying, "In other places, human rights accountability has been pursued through social mobilization - such as in Ireland, where activists took to the streets, and organized a successful referendum, to demand the Government liberalize highly restrictive abortion laws. These actions were supported by appeals to human rights mechanisms, which consistently called for reform of the abortion law."
report on Nairobi published by the "International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion"  details the presence of pro-life advocates and advocacy by the U.S. and other countries, with support from pro-life Kenyans and others attending an alternative conference, stating, "Anti-abortion flyers were distributed to people waiting in queues and throughout the event. US pressure on country delegations and on the atmosphere around the event was certainly felt."
UNFPA touted the Summit a success with over 1,200 commitments "to help ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights for all by 2030", with $1 billion pledged from donor countries and $8 billion from private sector.
Post Nairobi, UNFPA now turns its attention to ensure "accountability" for the "voluntary commitments" made by governments.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem announced in her closing remarks that "160 Member States have made their voluntary commitments" and that UNFPA "will create a new high-level commission to drive this agenda and our commitments forward".
She referenced the non-binding document, the Nairobi Statement about which the U.S. joint statement had expressed reservations, "as a transformative, agenda-setting framework, captures the commitments made this week."
The Nairobi Statement includes under "Achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage (UHC)", in point #3: integrating a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health interventions, including access to safe abortion to the full extent of the law... into national UHC strategies, policies and programmes...
In regards to accountability Kanem continued, "The commission will propose ways to monitor progress on the commitments made here this week, while accounting for all existing global, regional, and national follow-up mechanisms...We will draw from the full spectrum of stakeholders-government and the private sector, young people and activists, civil society and philanthropy, among many others."
PNCI wonders if governments knew that they would be pressured to achieve their "voluntary commitments" by a new UNFPA accountability mechanism.
International Pressure for Abortion
ERA--Threat to Pro-Life Laws-- Resurfaces
The U.S. House Committee on Judiciary approved along party lines a resolution, H.J.Res.79to remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA states, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" and is widely believed by both pro-life and pro-abortion advocates that it will nullify laws against abortion because they only apply to women. The ERA has failed to be ratified by the required 38 states before its already extended deadline.
According to Is the Equal Rights Amendment Relevant in the 21st Century?
on NOW's website,"an ERA -properly interpreted - could negate the hundreds of laws that have been passed restricting access to abortion care and contraception.  Denial of legal and appropriate medical care for women - and only women - is sex discrimination and a powerful ERA should recognize and prohibit that most harmful of discriminatory actions." NOW's list of "desired advances" from the ERA includes " a recognized right to abortion care that is not limited by medically-unnecessary restrictive laws."
Sen Orrin Hatch writing in 1983 in The Equal Rights Amendment: Myths and Realities stated, "Under the Equal Rights Amendment, however, even the small amount of state authority remaining over abortion would probably be eliminated. The absolutist mandate of the Amendment would likely transform any state restriction on abortion into an unconstitutional exercise in violation of the 'equality of rights' guarantee of the ERA."
The next step is for the ERA Resolution to be considered by the full House, an action likely to take place in 2020 as the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote is celebrated.
Pro-Abortion NGOs Pressure Slovak MPs on Abortion
Legislation containing new regulations on abortion including mandatory ultrasounds and listening to the heartbeat of the child before an abortion, a prohibition on "advertising" for abortion and a fine on those who order or disseminate abortion is before a committee in the National Council of the Slovak Republic. A group letter opposing the legislation was delivered to Slovak legislators organized by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network.
The letter attempts to intimidate lawmakers into opposing the bill by citing so-called "international law" and non-binding observations issued by UN treaty monitoring bodies on abortion.
The letter states, "If adopted, this legislation will harm women's health and well-being, obstruct their access to safe abortion care and violate Slovakia's international human rights obligations."
"Forcing women in Slovakia to undergo a mandatory ultrasound, view the ultrasound image and listen to the 'foetal heartbeat' before abortion would undermine their privacy, personal integrity and autonomy in decision-making about health care, and would subject them to harmful stigma, humiliation and degrading treatment. It would violate the requirement that medical decision-making must be free of coercion, and that a patient's consent to medical procedures should be given freely and voluntarily."
It cites the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which in October 2019 reviewed Slovakia's report and in its non-binding concluding observations stated "The Committee is deeply concerned that women in the State party face multiple barriers to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to safe abortions and contraceptives, and will be subjected to further restrictions of their rights in this regard if legislative proposals recently presented to the parliament are passed into law."
The committee recommended that Slovakia ensure that abortion "under all circumstances" is accessible through national health insurance and prohibits "any exposure of women to biased or medically unsound information on the risks of abortion that impedes their access to sexual and reproductive health services".
Pro-abortion news reports "These are punitive and coercive measures, imitating anti-abortion laws exported to Slovakia from several states in the USA."
Slovakia currently allows abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and for health reasons up to 24 weeks. 6,000 abortions in the country of 5.4 million occurred last year.
Focus on Religious Leaders
U.S. Catholic Bishops Calls Abortion a "Preeminent Priority" for Faithful Citizenship
The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) issued a letter --Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship-- at its annual meeting intended to guide Catholics as they vote in 2020. The bishops stated, "The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed."
The letter explains that the efforts of Catholics to protect the unborn "remain as important as ever, for just as the Supreme Court may allow greater latitude for state laws restricting abortion, state legislators have passed statutes not only keeping abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy but opening the door to infanticide."
According to the bishops, inserting abortion language into legislation "contaminates many other important issues...regarding immigration, care for the poor, and health care reform."
Pope Francis's words in his apostolic exhortation on holiness, Rejoice and Be Glad, stating that the call to holiness requires a "firm and passionate" defense of "the innocent unborn" was quoted in the letter as well as his statement that "Equally sacred are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection."
The bishops' words are meant for all Catholics "including those seeking public office" as they explain that as Catholics "our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around."
The letter will accompany a re-issuing of the bishops' 2015 statement on political responsibility "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" for the 2020 election. As explained in the letter, "With renewed hope, we, the Catholic Bishops of the United States, are re-issuing Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, our teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics, which provides guidance for all who seek to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. Everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life and contribute to the common good."
Catholics "from every walk of life" are urged by the bishops "to bring their faith and our consistent moral framework to contribute to important work in our communities, nation, and world on an ongoing basis, not just during election season." In 2020 and beyond, the bishops "urge leaders and all Catholics to respond in prayer and action to the call to faithful citizenship. In doing so, we live out the call to holiness and work with Christ as he builds his kingdom of love."
Christian, Jewish and Muslim Leaders Unite Against Euthanasia
position paper signed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders states the three religions' opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. The declaration, which was presented to Pope Francis, states that the three religions "oppose any form of euthanasia - that is the direct, deliberate and intentional act of taking life - as well as physician assisted suicide - that is the direct, deliberate and intentional support of committing suicide - because they fundamentally contradict the inalienable value of human life, and therefore are inherently and consequentially morally and religiously wrong, and should be forbidden without exceptions."
The paper affirms the conscience rights of healthcare providers, who have the responsibility "to provide the best possible cure for disease and maximal care of the sick." The leaders also call on policymakers to become familiar with these religious teachings so as to provide medical assistance that is compliant with their religious beliefs. The declaration further notes that society has an obligation to treat each person with dignity and respect until natural death and to not make them feel like a burden.
Legislative News
Northern Ireland: Public Urged to Weigh-In on New Abortion Laws
The people of Northern Ireland have been given a six-week consultation period on the country's new laws permitting abortion, set to take effect March 31, 2020. The UK decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland this past October, however, it will not go into effect until a new policy is implemented. The proposed consultation includes abortion on demand for up to 12 or 14 weeks gestation, no limits for cases of fetal anomaly, asks whether healthcare professionals should have conscientious objections, and suggests the inclusion of "safe zones" outside clinics to prohibit peaceful protests. Bernie Smyth, the director of Precious Life, said the proposed rules are "even more extreme" than current abortion law in England and Wales and is urging people to speak up. "But we would encourage people to make their views known so that if there is any chance more protection might be offered for the unborn, so that if there is any chance to save lives, we must take it," said Smyth. The consultation period closes on December 16th.
New Zealand: Lawmakers Approve Euthanasia, Goes to Public Vote
Following a heated two year debate, New Zealand lawmakers voted to permit assisted suicide by a vote of 69-51. However, the public will have the final say in a national referendum next year, a date for the referendum has yet to be set. The approved legislation- the End of Life Choice Bill- applies to those who are terminally ill and expected to die within six months who are experiencing "unbearable suffering". The bill also permits medically assisted suicide, allowing a healthcare provider to administer the lethal dose. Opposing MPs raised several concerns with the bill, including a lack of safeguards and the risk of unintended consequences.
A letter from a coalition of religious leaders urged lawmakers to oppose it, outlining several ethical, philosophical and practical concerns. The letter, signed by leaders of the Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican and Lutheran churches, the Federation of Islamic Associations, and the Salvation Army, notes the several ways this policy could force people into assisted suicide on account of a lack of resources. "Only when effective palliative care is a real choice for all New Zealanders will we as a country be in a position to have a proper discussion about offering assisted dying as an additional end-of-life option," they said.
Monaco: Legislature Decriminalizes Abortion
The National Council of Monaco voted unanimously to decriminalize abortion but not to legalize it. The approved bill amends section 248 of the Catholic country's Penal Code which imposed criminal sanctions on women who have had abortions. Abortion remains limited to cases of rape, fetal anomaly, or risk to the mother, and the practice of abortion is still banned and punishable with five to ten years imprisonment. Under the new legislation, doctors can now refer patients elsewhere for abortion. According to Monaco's government, it "provides for an appropriate response to the distress of the pregnant woman, who would no longer be condemned but heard and accompanied, while preserving values as fundamental as the right to life of the unborn child and the principles of the State religion."
Canada: Alberta Legislature Rejects Bill Protecting Health Providers' Conscience Rights
Alberta lawmakers voted to kill a private member's bill that would have protected conscience rights of doctors. The Conscience Rights Act for Healthcare Workers, Bill 207, protected healthcare providers from being sued for not providing services that conflict with their moral or religious beliefs. The bill was introduced by United Conservative Party backbencher Dan Williams, who said it was in response to a decision by the high court in Ontario earlier this year that said doctors had to refer patients for service that violated their beliefs. "I'm coming at this in a way where we can find thoughtful, collaborative solutions to make sure we don't pit doctors and health-care providers against their patients," said Williams. The bill was blocked in committee by a vote of 8-2, but Williams vows to continue to advocate for conscience rights.
Executive News
USA: Trump Administration Policy Redirects Title X from PPFA to Pro-Life Groups
The Trump Administration has redirected federal funding that previously went to abortion providers to pro-life centers. Under the Protect Life rule, recipients of Title X funding (for family planning services) cannot be in the business of abortion. To be eligible, they must either stop providing abortions or separate their abortion services from health care entirely. Planned Parenthood refused to cooperate and consequently lost the funding, which is now being utilized by pro-life nonprofits that provide prenatal care, ultrasounds, and resources for women needing assistance with pregnancy. For example, Obria, a chain of pro-life pregnancy centers in California received $5.1 million in Title X funds this year while it is reported that Planned Parenthood has lost an estimated $60 million in tax payer dollars.
Argentina: Dueling Presidential Actions on Abortion
Argentina's current president, Mauricio Macri, revoked an abortion protocol issued by the health minister hours after its publication. "Protocol for the comprehensive care of people entitled to legal termination of pregnancy" would allow minors between ages 13-16, to procure abortion without parental involvement while requiring girls under age 13 to receive permission from parents or guardians. However, if permission was refused, it was reported that "healthcare professionals do have the right to step in, but only the grounds of principles related to the health of the pregnant girl, and not for ideological or religious reasons." Currently Argentina authorizes an abortion only when the woman's life is in danger or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. 
Argentina's president-elect Alberto Fernández has vowed to legalize abortion once he is sworn into office next month. Fernández plans to introduce legislation that would decriminalize abortion, making it the first predominantly Catholic nation in Latin America to do so. 92 percent of Argentinians said they were Catholic in the last census, compared to only 41 percent of the population in neighboring Uruguay, which also legalized abortion. "I don't want this debate to be a dispute between progressives and conservatives, between revolutionaries and retrogrades, this is a public health issue," claimed Fernández in an interview. The new president takes office December 10th.
Morocco: Head of Government Pushes Back Against NGO Push for Abortion
Morocco's Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani criticized NGO's pushing for abortion, citing the country's traditional values. The recent trial of a journalist who was found guilty of abortion brought international attention to Morocco and ignited a wave of protests. El Othmani pushed back against the calls for decriminalization of abortion, noting that the government is guided by Islamic principles. "Moroccan society is currently going through a difficult transition phase between tradition and modernity," he said. "The problem is that traditional values are crumbling."
Judicial News
USA: Federal Judges Strike Down Trump Administration's Conscience Rule
Federal judges in California, New York and Washington State have struck down a Trump Administration rule protecting healthcare providers' conscience rights. The federal rule sought to protect medical providers who did not want to participate in procedures that violated their moral or religious beliefs by permitting the US Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) to withhold funding to entities if they did not comply. A law suit from a coalition of states and advocacy groups including New York, Washington, California, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and others challenged the rule that was set to go into effect November 22nd.
In his ruling, Manhattan based US District Court Judge Paul Englemayer said the conscience rule was unconstitutionally coercive. "Wherever the outermost line where persuasion gives way to coercion lies, the threat to pull all HHS funding here crosses it," wrote Engelmayer.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup claimed that the rule "was too broad and would have permitted medical professionals that were not doctors or nurses, such as ambulance drivers and receptionists, to refuse to do their jobs if they involved abortion."
Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino responded, "This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won't be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life. Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it's the law."
"Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law," he added.
The Administration is reviewing the rulings.

Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues
Advancing global respect and dignity for life through law and policy.

In this Issue

Defending Life
U.S. Opposes Promotion of Abortion at UNFPA Meeting
International Pressure for Abortion
ERA--Threat to Pro-Life Laws-- Resurfaces
Pro-Abortion NGOs Pressure Slovak MPs on Abortion
Focus on Religious Leaders
US Catholic Bishops Call Abortion a "Preeminent Priority" for Faithful Citizenship
Christian, Jewish and Muslim Leaders Unite Against Euthanasia
Legislative News
Northern Ireland: Public Urged to Weigh In on New Abortion Laws
New Zealand: Lawmakers Approve Euthanasia, Goes to Public Vote
Monaco: Legislature Decriminalizes Abortion
Canada: Alberta Legislature Rejects Bill Protecting Health Providers' Conscience Rights
Executive News
USA: Trump Administration Policy Redirects Title X from IPPF to Pro-Life Groups
Argentina: Dueling Presidents on Abortion
Morocco: Head of Government Pushes Back Against NGO Push for Abortion
Judicial News
USA: Federal Judges Strike Down Trump Administration's Conscience Rule