United Nations tells Hondurans that Abortion Ban is “A Crime”

By Samantha Singson

  NEW YORK, August 2, 2007 ( -  At the latest round of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee meetings in New York, members of the CEDAW committee criticized Hondurans for their pro-life laws, telling their delegation that the total ban on abortions is “a crime.”  Committee member Heisoo Shin told the Honduran delegation that it was necessary for the government to “create a momentum, a social force that stops the crime that allows a woman to die, to risk unsafe abortion and not have self-determination.”

  When the Honduran delegation responded that government efforts were aimed at prevention of early and unwanted pregnancies, CEDAW member Silvia Pimentel, faculty member at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, fired back that the government had been as comprehensive as possible on prevention and that “there are situations where prevention is not enough.” She continued, “Women have their reasons to seek an abortion, which should be respected.”  Pimentel admitted that those reasons did not always include a threat to the mother’s life, but that she could not understand the abortion ban in Honduras where “the interests of the fetus outweigh those of the mother.”

  In response to the statements, a Honduran representative reminded the CEDAW committee that under article 67 of the country’s constitution unborn children have the same rights as born children. The head of the Honduran delegation acknowledged recommendations had been submitted to her government by other UN human rights commissions regarding the termination of pregnancy and that these were being considered as possible reform issues.

  Driving home the committee’s stance during Hungary’s review, Silvia Pimentel criticized the content of Hungarians’ planning materials. The Brazilian expressed concern over brochures entitled “Life is a Miracle,” saying that conservatives often construed such material as reason for not having an abortion. Other CEDAW committee members pressed Belize, Brazil, Kenya and Liechtenstein on their abortion laws,  calling on them to institute legal reform to formally permit abortions. 

  States regularly refute or ignore the committee’s questions on abortion with the understanding that the questions are not based upon obligations of the treaty, which does not mention abortion, but rather are based on the committee’s personal interpretations of the treaty. 

  In a similar vein, delegations listened patiently as committee members used article 16 on marriage and family to press for homosexual and lesbian rights. Pimentel questioned Honduras on the subject, Anamah Tan questioned Brazil on whether “married homosexual couples” were protected under the country’s marriage laws, and Ruth Halperin-Kaddari questioned South Korea on the name and focus of the government’s “Healthy Family Act.” Halperin-Kaddari said that its traditional notions of the nuclear family seemed to be “judgmental” of other forms of family, such as divorced, cohabitating, and same-sex couples.

  The 2007 CEDAW sessions wrap up in New York this week. Earlier this year, the committee announced it would be moving the bulk of its meetings to Geneva starting in January 2008.

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