Abortion: A Human Right?

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

As the language of the supporters of legal abortion throughout the world includes many references to "rights". At the present time, moreover, abortion supporters are seeking to declare abortion to be an international right and even a "human right."

This effort is being advanced by means of United Nations Conferences, and by a particular combination of phrases and declarations. "Women's rights are human rights" is one of the code phrases now used in such circles. When this is combined with the assertion, "Women have reproductive rights" and the further assertion that "the human rights of women are universal," then despite the truths that can be found in each of these statements, the door is also opened to the conclusion that the right to obtain an abortion is a reproductive right which is universal and, in fact, a human right. A country, then, that protects its preborn children by law, would be seen as offending human rights that should be enforced internationally.

This strategy is particularly helpful to pro-abortion forces working in the UN at the present time, in light of the fact that an expert meeting called by the UN Population Division last November offered clear evidence that the "population explosion" has become a population "implosion," with fertility rates declining faster and more universally than ever before. This takes away one of the favorite arguments of pro-abortion forces. So, instead of focusing on "overpopulation" as a justification of abortion, they appeal to the idea that abortion is an international "human right."

From the point of view of the pro-life movement, then, our ultimate goal in regard to international law is to protect the children in the womb all over the world.

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the U.N. adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1998 marked its 50th anniversary, and provided us an opportunity to examine the declaration from the perspective of an international right to life.

The declaration asserts, "everyone has the right to life" (Article 3). This, of course, is the most fundamental right, since no other rights can be exercised if this one does not exist.

The Universal Declaration, furthermore, refers to human rights as "equal and inalienable," and declares that human beings have "inherent dignity" (Preamble). This is a key theme. In other words, governments can neither bestow nor remove human dignity from a human being. Governments, rather, exist to preserve and protect rights that are inherent, that is, rights which reside by definition within the human being precisely because he or she is a human being, and not because he or she has earned or been awarded those rights by some outside entity.

In articles 18 and 19, the Universal Declaration asserts the right of each person to freedom of religion and opinion on various matters, and the right to exercise that religion and express that opinion. Later in the declaration, however, Article 30 rightfully states, "Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein." For example, if I claimed to practice a religion that required me to kill another human being every Sunday as part of the worship service, although I have freedom of religion, I do not have the right to destroy the life of the other human being.

This applies also to abortion. The right to life, which is inherent and incapable of being annulled by any government, may not be trampled upon in the name of religious freedom. It is a favorite position of the defenders of abortion to claim their "right to believe what they want" and to "have their own opinion" about the status and value of the child in the womb. But the right of someone to live cannot fall simply because someone else's belief does not recognize that right.

Let us renew our efforts to bring all nations to a strong respect for each person's inherent rights, most fundamentally the right to life.