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Claims About Abortion Threaten Senate's Ratification of Disability Treaty

Claims About Abortion Threaten Senate's Ratification of Disability Treaty

December 4, 2012 — U.S. ratification of an international treaty to promote rights for people with disabilities is in jeopardy because of some conservatives' claims that it would promote abortion and undermine U.S. sovereignty, the Boston Globe's "Political Intelligence" reports.

President Obama signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009 and presented the measure for Senate approval this year, with the hope of joining the 125 countries that already have approved it (Rowland, "Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 12/3). The treaty aims to ensure equality for people with disabilities by promoting parity in areas such as accessibility, health, education and employment.

Objections to Treaty

The Senate is slated to begin voting at noon on Tuesday (Cox, "Floor Action Blog," The Hill, 12/3). Some Republican senators oppose the measure because they say it will promote abortions overseas, threaten home-schooling programs and potentially separate children from their parents ("Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 12/3). They also claim it could undermine efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Specifically, opponents take issue with a portion stating that individuals with disabilities should be given "the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care and programs, ... including in the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based public health programs."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has led efforts to block the measure (Morton, Omaha World-Herald, 12/4). The conservative Heritage Foundation also has raised objections, arguing that the treaty would undermine U.S. sovereignty and threaten business interests.

During consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed an amendment to the treaty that would have excluded abortion from health care, but that measure failed. The committee went on to vote 13-6 in favor of ratification, with all six "nay" votes cast by Republicans.

Some opponents also object to ratification on procedural grounds ("Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 12/3). Thirty-six GOP senators in September signed a letter requesting that no treaties be brought to the floor during the lame-duck session because of the need for "thorough scrutiny."

Responses to Criticism

On Monday, a bipartisan group of supporters called for ratification, arguing that the objections are groundless (Omaha World-Herald, 12/4).

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "With respect to abortion, this is a disabilities treaty and has nothing to do with abortion," adding, "Trying to turn this into an abortion debate is bad politics and just wrong." He noted that the treaty is nonbinding and will have no effect on U.S. laws ("Floor Action Blog," The Hill, 12/3). The treaty aims to expand protections similar to those in the Americans with Disabilities Act to people around the world, he said.

A two-thirds majority vote is required for the measure to pass the Senate. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Monday said that he thinks he is about four votes short but is hopeful that some opponents still might change their minds ("Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 12/3).

Other Democrats and former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who served under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, also joined in calling for the treaty's ratification (Omaha World-Herald, 12/4). Bush, former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and advocates for people with disabilities also support the treaty ("Political Intelligence," Boston Globe, 12/3).