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New! Supreme Court Decisions

Is abortion really

a human rights issue?

Abortion is frequently dismissed as a "women's" issue, a "religious" issue, or a "medical" issue. But it is also, at its core, a human rights issue: The unborn are living human beings and, as such, they have an inherent right to life.

If abortion proponents simply defended abortion on the grounds that the unborn are not human or not alive, they would be wrong, but at least they could still square their ideas with the notion that all human beings have human rights. However, many abortion proponents do not confine their arguments to these narrow grounds. Instead, they maintain that it does not matter whether the unborn are human: that they have no right to life even if they are human beings. In the words of one prominent feminist and abortion rights supporter, "[T]he mother must be able to decide that the fetus, in its full humanity, must die."

This notion is fundamentally irreconcilable with our traditional conception of human rights. Human beings have certain rights--including a right to life--simply by virtue of being human beings. Indeed, this right is recognized, both expressly and implicitly in many human rights treaties. Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (United Nations, 1966) declares, "Every human being has the inherent right to life." Similarly, article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Organization of American States, 1948) provides, "Every human being has the right to life."

Provisions in two other human rights treaties are even more compelling, particularly with respect to abortion. Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) provides that "every child has the inherent right to life." The convention defines the word "child" as "every human being below the age of 18 years," and its preamble provides, "[T]he child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." (emphasis added) The American Convention on Human Rights (Organization of American States, 1969) is even more direct. It provides, "Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception."