February 29, 2016 (C-Fam) – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights may soon decide whether South American doctors must act against their conscience, at least in abortion cases.
In a paper submitted to the Court, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) argues that hospitals, charities and schools are not granted the freedom of conscience when it comes to “reproductive healthcare” services.
In 2014, Panama asked the Court whether only people are granted fundamental rights’ protection under the Inter-American Convention or if these same rights belong to juridical entities as well. Juridical persons are entities other than human beings that are recognized in the law as having legal rights and duties, such as corporations.
CRR argued that juridical entities are not granted freedom of conscience nor religion, but are only a prerogative of individuals. They claim that institutions – whether publicly funded or private – may never refuse to perform or participate in abortions.
Medical personnel would equally deserve no protection. Indeed, the States’ obligation to allow legal access to abortion would always prevail, according to CRR, over protecting personal consciences and beliefs.
According to CRR, international law obligates States to grant free access to “comprehensive” reproductive healthcare, including abortion. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon recently said “priority” should be given in humanitarian crises to “providing women and adolescents with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination.”
In fact, there is no such understanding in International law.
The 1994 UN agreement on population and development – the sole binding basis of today’s reproductive health claims – did not grant this right, but rather recognized that the issue is up to nations to decide. Similarly, the European human rights’ system has never recognized a fundamental abortion right.
International law does not require States to provide abortion, nor is there consensus on what “comprehensive” sexual and reproductive healthcare would entail. CRR based its arguments on non-binding recommendations of UN treaty bodies such as CEDAW, the women’s rights treaty. Yet no UN treaty requires countries to allow abortion.
Freedom of conscience is a universally recognized right. It is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the European Convention and – precisely – by the Inter-American Convention. A narrow interpretation of this freedom – such as that suggested by CRR – would violate all Charters, as well as many of the world’s Constitutions.
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Beside freedom of conscience, the Inter-American Court is considering “new” fundamental rights. Two of the cases to be heard and decided in this session relate to the homosexual agenda.
One case sues Ecuador for its Rules of Military Discipline that provided for discharging persons from military service for engaging in homosexual acts. Another will decide whether not giving pensions to surviving partners of same-sex couples constitutes a violation of fundamental rights by the state of Colombia.
The Inter-American Court has compulsory jurisdiction over twenty South American States. Its decisions can shape and influence the jurisprudence of the whole American continent.
CRR is a New York-based legal group that litigates for abortion internationally.
Reprinted with permission from C-Fam.