November 15, 2013 — The Senate has yet to ratify an international treaty designed to ensure equal rights for people with disabilities, in part because "the religious right and tea party groups" incorrectly raised concerns about abortion that deterred "otherwise responsible legislators" from voting for the bill in 2012, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes (Gerson, Washington Post, 11/14).
The treaty, called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, declares that nations should ensure that all people, regardless of ability, receive equal rights and freedoms. Although dozens of other countries -- including China, France, Germany, Great Britain and Russia -- have already ratified the treaty, it failed to pass the U.S. Senate after conservatives raised concerns that it would lead to more abortions, threaten parental rights and erode U.S. sovereignty (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/5/2012).
Gerson argues that the treaty "does nothing to encourage abortion," adding that it "only sets the expectation that a country's existing 'sexual and reproductive health' services should be equally available to the disabled." He writes, "In practice, this means disabled people should not be subjected to forced sterilizations or forced abortion -- presumably pro-life commitments." Moreover, the U.S. "has made clear that it views the treaty as silent on the general legality of abortion -- a view uniformly accepted by other signatories," Gerson notes.
Other concerns, such as fears about parental rights, are rooted in the premise that "international law can be used to override U.S. law," even though the treaty "provides no basis for such challenges," he adds.
According to Gerson, religious activists have led the way on addressing other global problems -- such as genocide in Sudan or combatting HIV/AIDS -- and "entered unexpected ideological alliances with more traditionally liberal human rights or global health organizations to push for idealistic national goals."
By contrast, on the issue of the U.N. treaty, some religious activists are "defensive, self-focused and poorly informed," making "common cause with conservative organizations that trade in conspiratorial fantasies."
"This type of activism is discrediting -- and also clarifying," he writes, concluding, "Do religious conservatives really want their faith to be known for its fears?" (Washington Post, 11/14).