UN Official: Denying Abortion Violates International Treaty on Torture

A supporter of legalizing abortion poses during a march for women's rights on International Women's Day on March 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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The UN “Special Rapporteur” on torture says if a woman cannot have an abortion, then she has experienced torture under international treaty obligations.

In a newly released report, Juan Mendez says laws against abortion are responsible for “tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering”, subject women and girls to “humiliating and judgemental attitudes,” and remarkably contribute to “prison overcrowding.”

All of this leads up to his charge that laws against abortion violate the UN Convention Against Torture, which defines torture as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

According to Mendez, signers of the treaty must “[d]ecriminalize abortion and ensure access to legal and safe abortions, at a minimum in cases of rape, incest and severe or fatal fetal impairment and where the life or physical or mental health of the mother is at risk.”

Mendez’s report mentions “abortion” 24 times. It mentions “police” — the kind of “state actors” that are usually accused fairly or unfairly of torture — three times.

This is not the first time Mendez has issued such a controversial report. He reported previously that failure to test unborn children for fetal abnormalities, so the mother could consider abortion, constituted torture as well.

Special Rapporteurs have no real authority. Their reports and recommendations are supposed to inform the work of “treaty monitoring bodies” that examine the implementation of treaties by governments that sign them.

In recent years, these expert bodies have taken it upon themselves to rewrite hard-law treaties and then try to impose their new definitions on states-parties to the treaties. Treaty monitoring bodies have said that abortion is now a global right, for instance, even though abortion appears in no hard law creates. Additionally, they have said “sexual orientation and gender identity” is a new category of non-discrimination in international law, even though that phrase appears no where in any treaty.

Governments have consistently rejected these claims.


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