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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIII, No. 1
Eastertide 2008

Is the World Ready for a Moratorium on Abortion?

by Mary Jo Anderson

The law of unintended consequences dealt a rare hand to the pro-life movement in December 2007. As the year came to a close with the celebration of the Birth of the Savior, diverse groups around the world called for a global moratorium on abortion.

The call for a global cessation of abortion began, surprisingly, with the United Nations. At the summation of the 62nd General Assembly of the United Nations, delegates passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty. The UN resolution is non-binding, but nations are asked to suspend the death penalty voluntarily. It is understood that, though non-binding, failure to abide by the resolution can result in various international pressures and diplomatic sanctions.

Hailed by social justice spokespersons the world over, the resolution justified its call for the moratorium because the death penalty “undermines human dignity”, and the moratorium would advance the “development of human rights”.

The Holy See Mission to the United Nations spoke in favor of the resolution. The delegation’s statement read in part:

This draft resolution asks States to exercise true courage in saying “no” to killing of any kind…. The right to life and respect for human dignity remains an inalienable right of every person and a founding principle of this Organization…. Therefore, in welcoming the adoption of this draft resolution, the Holy See once again calls on all States to take a consistent view on the right to life, in a way that their support for this important draft resolution would equally mean their support for the protection of the life of the unborn. (

UN personnel and delegates have come to expect the Holy See to insert pro-life protection for the unborn into most negotiated texts. These interventions have ceased to cause a stir. While there is no international law that binds nations on their domestic policy as regards abortion, it is an open secret that the UN’s humanitarian agencies actively promote abortion. The Holy See consistently counters these maneuvers. Voices readers are familiar with the UN’s manipulation of treaties and conventions to bend international law and national policies to promote abortion on demand, particularly in poorer nations. Wherever one reads the phrase “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in a UN document, one encounters code-speak for abortion.

There are recorded cases where the UN worked with other global agencies — the World Bank for example — to pressure client nations to adopt abortion as public policy. Pro-life workers in El Salvador reported that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) used the horror of earthquakes to push abortion on families devastated by the calamity. Julia Cardenal, president of “Si A La Vida” [Yes to Life], explained, “We had two major earthquakes in El Salvador … and instead of sending us food or medicine, or something to meet our needs, they sent a range of contraception devices.”

Austin Ruse of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute described the UN as “stuffed stem to stern with pro-aborts … that’s not to say that there are not many good people there, it’s just that they are vastly outnumbered.”

Ruse outlined the process by which a UN monitoring committee strong-arms nations to accept abortion. When a country signs a treaty or a convention, such as the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the nation opens its domestic policy to a UN committee whose task is to “monitor” treaty compliance.

CEDAW teams have interpreted ambiguous phrases such as “reproductive rights” as inclusive of abortion. Often the UN teams work with abortion rights groups within a nation to add more pressure to “comply” with the committee’s recommendation.

According to Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute’s recent report, this methodology has been “increasingly applied over the last ten years with at least sixty nations being pressured by the six treaty bodies to legalize or increase access to abortion.”

Due to such machinations, the Holy See reiterates its entire pro-life message each time a negotiated text presents an opportunity. And many times the message is ignored.

But the day following the UN’s resolution on the death penalty an Italian journalist, Giuliano Ferrara, founder and director of the opinion newspaper il Foglio, publicly called for a corresponding moratorium on abortion. Ferrara, formerly a leader of the Italian Communist Party, appeared on television and connected the dots from the death penalty back to abortion. If the death penalty is “unjust” and an offense against “human dignity”, according to the UN resolution, then the death of innocent lives in the womb is also unjust and an offense against human dignity.

Immediately, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and former nuncio to the United Nations, announced that in addition to the death penalty, abortion had to be addressed because of the deaths of “millions and millions of innocent beings, unborn children.” (L’Osservatore Romano, December 20, 2007)

The Italian bishops saw a blessed opportunity and promptly endorsed the moratorium in the Italian bishops’ own publication, Avvenire. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops’ conference told Corriere della Sera (January 4, 2008) the moratorium was crucial, “because it recalls states to their responsibility to protect and promote human life.”

Politically, a moratorium is an inspired vehicle for peaceful change. Because the UN’s death penalty moratorium is strictly voluntary — the UN’s resolution is non-binding — compliance is achieved by pressure from within the international community. In a similar manner, the abortion moratorium does not call for overturning abortion laws in nations where the procedure is legal. Rather, it calls on people and policy makers to oppose it as social policy. Social pressure becomes political pressure.

Journalist Ferrara has a sweeping vision. He expects that the movement for the moratorium will bring five million pilgrims to Rome in the summer to demand that their governments “suspend every policy that provides an incentive for the practice of eugenics” and amend the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include “the right to be born”. Ferrara dreams of a manifesto written by an illustrious and diverse list of thinkers: Didier Sicard of France, Italy’s Carlo Casini, Roger Scruton, from England, the American bioethicist Leon Kass, and the new US ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon. Ferrara recognized the need to exclude any “form of blame, and far more any legal persecution of women who may decide to have an abortion” in those nations where it is permitted by law.

The immediate fervor that Ferrara’s call generated caught European policy makers off guard. Il Foglio received “a growing, unstoppable torrent of letters” in support of the moratorium. The letters reflect the passion, angst and sorrow of average citizens who have been conflicted over the rights of the baby and the so-called “right to choose”.

Within weeks the abortion moratorium met astonishing and favorable public response from nations as diverse as Spain and Korea. Advocates report that the moratorium has persuasive force with people of all backgrounds. Respected voices from all compass points have endorsed the abortion moratorium. The Missionaries of Charity’s Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s successor, urged nations to support the UN’s death penalty moratorium and the moratorium on abortion.

Her countryman, Lenin Raghavarshi, is an avowed atheist and noted human rights activist known for his work against torture and child slave labor in India. Raghavarshi, who was awarded the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, said, “It is ridiculous and absurd to suggest that abortion is a solution to hunger, in order to control population growth.  What’s more the concept  — typical of UN organizations — that overpopulation represents the greatest danger to the health of a nation has no basis at all in reality.”

From the East, Father Casimiro Song, Secretary of the Life 31 Movement of the Korean bishops’ conference, gave an interview to AsiaNews concerning the moratorium. “We welcome the UN adoption of the moratorium on the death penalty, passed on December 17, 2007 and we think it is a logical conclusion to extend it to a moratorium on abortion. As matter of fact, human life begins from the very moment of the conception.”

Father Song drew the logical connection between the death penalty moratorium and an abortion moratorium, “To give a direct example, the number of serious criminals executed every day is only a tiny proportion compared with the thousands of innocent human lives that are silently killed by abortion every day throughout the world.”

The Korean priest added a call to include embryonic stem cell research in the moratorium. “Therefore I give my full support to the launching of a worldwide movement aimed at a moratorium on abortion, including the manipulation of embryonic stem cells for research, artificial fertilization, and the destruction of deformed fetuses because these embryos and fetuses are perfect and precious human beings made in the image of God.”

In Spain, Bishop José Ignacio Munilla Aguirre of Palencia hailed the UN resolution on the death penalty, but added that consistency points to a moratorium on abortions as well, “Just as it is asked that the life [of] a criminal be respected, all the more should the life of an innocent person be respected.” (www.cbcp

A little more than a month after Ferrara surprised Europe with his call to end abortion, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, announced in the Italian daily La Repubblica his plans for a worldwide mission to support the abortion moratorium. His quest will begin with South America, where he will call on political and social leaders. “If the Church, as well as the UN, is against the death penalty, this is the principal reason to remember that it is a sin to kill an unborn baby”, the cardinal told La Repubblica. “We will begin in Latin America and we’ll meet with governments of every ideology, including Marxists and socialists, because abortion is not an Italian or European problem, but a global one, and the Holy See wants to eliminate it.” ( 08012518.html)

Clearly, a strong international leadership is building in support of the moratorium on abortion. It is an astounding development with an undercurrent that suggests the average citizen is simply weary of abortion and the wreckage it leaves behind in the lives of individuals and nations.

The moratorium is an initiative whose time has come. Perhaps, after decades of the “culture of death” the world is open to the message of life. There are green tendrils of evidence everywhere.

Technology has increased our ability to observe the infant in utero. Accordingly, professionals and average citizens are unable to deny a patent reality: A baby in its mother’s womb is alive and it is human. Thus, the wanton growth of abortion strikes many as a political expedient used to control populations (China) or to advance ideologies (radical feminism). Abortion can no longer be peddled as a “rare” or regretted “choice” in a grievous situation. Instead it has grown to a sickening destruction of life as a matter of personal convenience. International covenants now stretch to cover the rights of refugees and migrants or the disabled. It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the logic of equal protection for the unborn child.

This is precisely the logic that the Holy See Mission carefully outlined at the UN during the draft negotiations for the death penalty resolution: “Through its unequal application, the interpretation of the ‘parameters’ of the right to life, at life’s various stages, reduces this fundamental right to a mere tool for political disagreements at the very expense of life itself.” (emphasis added)

The failed logic of the international push for human rights minus the right to life for the unborn is now apparent. What is also apparent is the abuse of the limits originally placed on abortion in many nations where it was legalized.

A current debate in Britain illustrates the increasing discomfort with unlimited abortion. British peers have planned to change the current UK abortion law to prevent terminations right up to birth if an unborn child is thought to have a birth defect, no matter how minor. According to a report in The Daily Mail (UK) “Pressure has mounted on the government to review the law amid concern at a rise in the number of terminations. Last year there were 194,000 in England and Wales, up from 176,000 in 2002.” Demands for legal reform have swelled as ultrasound pictures show a 12-week-old baby “walking” and “dancing” in utero. The British paper reports, “The Church of England, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders have all demanded a review” of abortion laws.

The review includes an amendment to the law that permits abortions up to 39 weeks if the unborn baby is believed to have a “serious disability”.

The problem is the ambiguity of “serious disability”. The term is not defined in law, thus infants with minor difficulties such as a cleft palate have been aborted. Now, peer Baroness Masham is leading the charge against the law. She said, “Handicapped babies are still being aborted right up to full term, which is just horrific…. When I related this to my secretary, who had been born with such a defect which had been corrected, she was horrified.” Indeed. Many are repulsed when they learn that children with very mild defects are aborted. The debate serves the pro-life cause precisely due to the horror that such excess or abuses of the legal provisions permit. The baroness said, “Modern medicine can alleviate these conditions with relative ease. Many of these conditions are not serious. The law is being abused, even in its own terms.” ( pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=509623&in_page_id=1770)

A recent revelation of abuse of abortion laws in Spain followed on the heels of an “environmental” scandal. “In Spain we have had on TV the shock of seeing eight-month-[old] babies aborted and thrown in the trash at clinics”, reported Lola Velarde, president of the European Network Institute for Family Policies in Spain.

“These clinics are not supposed to perform so many abortions. In Spain abortion is legal only when pregnancy is the result of rape, or the baby is severely deformed, or the mother’s health is in grave danger.”

It was obvious that clinics were abusing the law and virtually any psychological complaint was sufficient to abort under the mother’s health provision. “But this clinic report was of an environmental abuse, because these babies were not properly disposed of, and this you see is danger for the environment”, noted Velarde with irony. “Now people see that the law in Spain concerning abortion is not being followed. To see the babies in the trash [on TV] … and now the call for the worldwide moratorium. It is a moment for us.”

This abuse of the law is disconcerting to most citizens who are conflicted over the issue of abortion. Surveys indicate that most people accept abortion as public policy only in the most extreme circumstances, typically rape or true health risks for the mother and major birth defects. Decent people have given reluctant consent to what they thought were “limited” abortions. Increasingly it is clear that there are few limits on abortion wherever it is legalized.

Another sign of change as regards openness to the culture of life is the positive outpouring of public support for family life. The call for a moratorium on abortion follows the enormous success of pro-family demonstrations in Europe that have drawn upwards of a million people to events such as Italy’s Family Day on May 12, 2007. Jewish, Muslim, and Labor leaders as well as stalwart Catholic pro-life organizations supported that gathering — a public response to a move to legalize same-sex unions in Italy. On December 30, 2007, a similar family event drew a million citizens to Madrid.

These are vast numbers — too large for politicians to ignore. Clearly the public’s opinion is being shaped by the inescapable damage that anti-family polices have wrought in Europe over the last forty years. Across Europe there is a “demographic winter” that confronts public policy planners whatever their faith, ideology or political allegiance.

Europe has pursued suicidal social policies such that the population is below replacement levels. Europeans are literally dying out. The reasons are numerous — the culture of death, rampant hedonism, a loss of faith and hope that has no care for future generations, an atomized culture that focuses on individual desires rather than communal life.

The effects of this demographic cataclysm are felt in the halls of government — in Italy local mayors offer a 10,000-Euro “baby bonus” to women who will have a second child. Nations now have too few younger workers to support the burgeoning elderly whose social service needs take a massive chomp out of the public purse. Younger workers are the source of inventions and innovations, risk takers and visionaries; in short, they are the source of a vibrant economy. Less youthful talent equals economic stagnation. Such public consequences are dwarfed by the alienation and psychological malaise that stems from divorce, cohabitation, abortion and all the politically correct indulgences that have wounded two generations.

Yet another green shoot in an awakening to the truth about life comes from an unlikely source — movies. In 2007 several US-made movies explored — if imperfectly — the choice of mothers to give birth to their unplanned babies. Such films as Waitress, the crude Knocked-Up and Juno make the case for life without preachy dialogue or religious sentimentality. The more faith-oriented Bella enjoyed mild success at the box office as well. The key point is that these movies herald a change in the perception of young people about what the “choice” actually is — a child.

The call for a moratorium on abortion was certainly never the goal of the UN resolution on the death penalty. That resolution is scheduled as an agenda item again at the 63rd meeting of the General Assembly in 2008. Perhaps by then the moratorium on abortion will have established roots too strong to be yanked up —even by global diplomats.

Mary Jo Anderson, a member of the Voices editorial board, writes on the United Nations and family issues for Crisis, WorldNet Daily, and other publications. Her commentaries have appeared on radio and television, including Vatican Radio. She has addressed members of the Czech Parliament on women and family issues in emerging democracies. Mary Jo is co-author with Dr. Robin Bernhoft of Male and Female He Created Them: Some Questions and Answers on Marriage and Same-sex Unions, published by Catholic Answers, San Diego.

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