19-January-2007 -- Catholic World News Brief |

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Jan. 19, 2007 (C-fam.org/CWNews.com) - A UN commission has exceeded its mandate in order to criticize Poland for restricting abortion, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) reports.

At UN headquarters this week, the committee that oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) criticized Poland’s compliance with the treaty, reports Samantha Singson in C-Fam's Friday Fax. CEDAW committee members questioned the Polish government on access to abortion, contraception and a reported preference of the government to promote natural family planning over hormonal contraceptives.

Committee members expressed concern about Poland’s "conscience clause" for doctors who do not want to perform abortions. While addressing a question regarding the number of illegal abortions, the Polish representative stressed to the committee that “every abortion is a tragedy,” and that the most serious problem has been the Polish government’s inability to provide adequate care for pregnant women who are alone. The Polish representative told the committee that the primary focus of the government has been to create conditions where women know they can receive assistance to deliver and raise healthy children.

Quoting from an unnamed source-- likely charges brought by a pro-abortion organization-- the committee charged the Polish government with limiting access to contraceptives. The Polish representative explained that access to contraception had not been limited, but that the question was really one of “reimbursement” for their cost. The Polish representative reminded the CEDAW committee that reimbursement of contraceptives depended on the current government’s budgetary priorities and currently the government’s main priority is to provide reimbursement for life-saving medications.

Poland has come under fire from other UN treaty bodies for its restrictive abortion laws. In 2004, the Human Rights Committee (HRC), which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), noted in its concluding observations that Poland’s abortion law “may incite women to seek unsafe, illegal abortions, with attendant risks to their life and health.” The HRC recommended that Poland “liberalize its legislation and practice on abortion.”

The Human Rights Committee and the CEDAW Committee have argued that illegal and unsafe abortion is a violation of the right to life. Both the HRC and the CEDAW committee have criticized countries for legislation that criminalizes or puts restrictions on access to abortion.

In their article, "Rights by Stealth," forthcoming in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Douglas Sylva and Susan Yoshihara argue that various UN committee frequently and deliberately overstep their mandates. They point out that CEDAW does not even mention abortion or reproductive health, and they emphasize that the CEDAW Committee has openly admitted that in interpreting the article on health in the treaty, it refers to the non-binding and highly contentious Cairo and Beijing outcome documents on population and women's rights. A former CEDAW committee member, Krisztina Morvai, recently argued that this "creative interpretation" by compliance committees is out of step with the rule of law since nations cannot be sure what they are going to be held accountable for once they have negotiated and ratified a treaty.

The CEDAW Committee will continue its country reviews until February 2. Also up for review during this session are the pro-life countries of Colombia, Nicaragua, and Peru.

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