When the committee met in Geneva on Monday for a hearing on the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, Vice Chairperson Felice Gaer, an American, said in her opening statement that laws that ban all abortion—which is the position of the Catholic Church–may violate the convention. She also repeated verbatim some language that had been in a letter the CRR had sent to the committee on April 11.
Gaer, however, did not quote the section in CRR’s letter that urged the committee to tell the church that the freedoms of religion and speech did not give the church a right to advocate against abortion.
CRR’s letter included several recommendations for how the Committee Against Torture should deal with Catholicism.
CRR recommended: “Urge the Holy See to refrain from negatively interfering publicly or privately in women’s or legislators’ decisions concerning access to abortion and to support states as they attempt to align their policies on women’s reproductive rights with their obligations under the convention.”
CRR also recommended that in its upcoming report on the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, the committee should: “Note that the Holy See’s actions are a violation of Articles 1, 2 and 16 of the Convention Against Torture and that the rights of freedom of speech and of religion extend only so far as they do not undermine women’s reproductive rights.”
CRR further argued to the committee that the church’s moral prescription against abortion violates the Convention Against Torture.
“The Holy See’s canon law on abortion constitutes an absolute ban and thus violates its obligations under Articles 1, 2, and 16,” said the letter to the committee.
“As the Holy See’s policy on abortion does not permit abortion in any circumstances, it prima facie fails to prevent torture and ill-treatment of women who seek abortion,” says the letter.
At Monday’s hearing, Vice Chairperson Gaer used part of her opening statement to tell the Vatican’s representatives there that banning abortion in all circumstances could violate the convention.
Citing unnamed NGOs, she referred to instances of Catholic opposition to abortion that had been specifically cited in CRR’s letter to her committee and at one point she quoted verbatim a statement from the European Court of Human Rights exactly as it had been quoted in CRR’s letter.
“Now, the committee has found that laws–and this committee has found this repeatedly–that laws that criminalize termination of pregnancy in all circumstances can violate the convention,” said Gaer.
“I am wondering, first of all, if you are aware of the committee’s jurisprudence on this issue, whether there have been efforts to inform Holy See officials about this aspect of the committee’s work, and have you reviewed the information received by the committee from NGOs about therapeutic abortions to save the lives of the mother,” said Gaer.
“They presented cases of a nine-year old Brazilian girl victim of sexual abuse, a nine-year old Nicaraguan named Rosa, an El Salvadoran Beatrice, and the case of P in Poland,” said Gaer, referring to cases cited in CRR’s letter.
“They cite the European Court of Human Rights, noting, and I quote, ‘the general stigma attached to abortion and to sexual violence has been shown to deter women from seeking medical care, causing much distress and suffering both physically and mentally.” Unquote. That is the European Court,” said Gaer. It is also exactly the citation quoted to the Gaer’s committee on page 8 of CRR’s letter.
“I am wondering how you respond to these concerns, and the concern of NGOs, that a ban in all circumstances puts women’s lives and health at risk and can cause women severe pain and suffering,” Gaer rhetorically asked the Vatican representatives sitting across from her.
In targeting Catholic teaching on abortion, the U.N. Committee Against Torture is following in the footsteps of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. Earlier this year, that committee explicitly called on the Vatican to change Catholic teaching on abortion.
“The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion, which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls, and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted,” the Committee on the Rights of the Child said in a Feb. 25 report on the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Catholic Association, a group of Catholic laypersons who defend the church and its teachings, has been sharply critical of U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Committee Against Torture for targeting the moral teaching of the Catholic Church.
“The United Nations has becoming increasingly hostile to people of faith and particularly to Christians and specifically to Catholics and the teachings on life and marriage and family,” Maureen Ferguson, the senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association, told CNSNews.com.
“In this instance, regarding the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN not only lectured the Catholic Church, but told them to actually change Canon Law, to essentially tell the Catholic Church you can’t be Catholic,” she said.
“The U.N., of course, has no jurisdiction whatsoever to do this,” she added. “The Catholic Church is made up of a billion people worldwide. The Catholic Church is not the confines of the Vatican city state, which is a member of the U.N.
“The irony here is just unbelievable,” she said, “that in the name of the rights of the child, on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations is telling the church you have to change your position on the protection of children, on abortion.
“And now we are looking at this committee on torture,” she said. “What could be more torturous to a child than the literal dismemberment of a living human being that is abortion?”