Putin’s political theology vs. Obama’s LGBT-messianism

Posted on | September 18, 2014 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D.

The Tsar and the Messiah

Definitely, we are living in strange times. Pro-lifers and defenders of marriage and family meet at a conference in Moscow, hosted by two men with close links not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, but also to Russian President (and former KGB-boss) Vladimir Putin just at a time when the latter is waging a war of aggression against neighbouring Ukraine (not to mention the very similar wars he has waged against Georgia and Moldova and, domestically, against the Chechens…). At the same time Barack Obama, supposedly the leader of the most powerful democratic country in the world, is not only the one of the world’s most active advocates of violence against unborn children, but also uses all the powers of his office to wage a full-fledged war, domestically and world-wide, against marriage and the family – which are the very fundaments of any democratic society. And we, perplexed, do not know which camp to choose.

Pro-life Conference in Moscow

The case of Russia is perhaps even more paradoxical than the US. To understand it, it is necessary to understand the particularities of the Russian body politic, and the continuities as well as the discontinuities that characterize it. Despite the changes in the prevailing political ideologies since the beginning of the 20th century, the way in which this country is governed has essentially remained the same.

Russia became a Christian nation in 896, when Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev was baptized in the Dnipro. This makes Russia not the first, but also not the last member of the European family of nations to have embraced Christianity – and it also explains why many Russians continue to view Kiev as the cradle of their nation. The rise of Moscow only began long afterwards.

The particularity of the Christianization of Russia was that it was initiated by missionaries who had been sent from Byzantium – at a time when the links between Byzantium and Rome had already become very loose. The split between East and West became formal only when the Pope and the Greek Patriarch excommunicated each other in 1054 – but even before that, the Russian church depended on Byzantium, not on Rome. In all its history, the Russian Church never was a daughter of Rome.

The relationship to Byzantium, however, was not very close either. While Russia just began its career as a Christian nation, Byzantium was already in full decline. The Middle East had already been lost in 642, then came the internal strife known as the “Ikonoclasm”, and finally (beginning with the battle of Mantzikert in 1067) the Ottomans, who ate up the once glorious Byzantine Empire bit by bit, until they finally conquered its capital, Constantinople, in 1453.

In Russia, the fall of Constantinople gave rise to a new State Doctrine: “Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth. No one shall replace your Christian Tsardom!” It was for this reason that Grand Duke Ivan III of Muscovy, following his marriage with Sofia Palaiologa (a distant niece of the last Byzantine emperor) started using some of the insignia of the defunct Byzantine Empire, and his son and successor Vasily III. became the first Russian monarch to style himself as “tsar” (derived from Caesar, Kaiser, i.e. “emperor”).

In other words, Russia considered herself as the third and final Rome, the first among the Christian nations.[1] And in full consistency with the Byzantine tradition, there was to be a close relationship between the Throne and the Church.

In that relationship, the Tsars always had the upper hand. Peter the Great even went as far as to abolish the Patriarchate of Moscow, proclaiming himself the Head of the Russian Church, and installing a layman (the so-called “Oberprokurator”) as the governor of al ecclesiastical affairs.

This arrangement was maintained until the end of the Russian monarchy. Only in 1917 was a new Patriarch of Moscow, Tichon, enthroned – only to become the most prominent victim of the terrible persecution that set in immediately with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks later that year.

But behind the rupture there was a hidden continuity. Religion was replaced by the Leninist ideology (which itself could with good reasons be described as a bizarre form of “religion”), – yet the way in which the country was ruled essentially remained the same: an absolute monarch (Lenin, then Stalin) ruled with absolute power, based on a “State Church” ( aka the Bolshevik Party)to legitimize his rule, and an omnipotent/omniscient secret police (the Tsar’s “Okhrana” had been replaced by the NKVD, but actually many experienced police agents simply changed sides and continued as before…). This was how things had always been, and they continued being (albeit with a visible increase in brutality).

It seems to me that after the Soviet Union’s break-down in 1991 a similar shift has taken place. Marxism was dumped, and a new State Doctrine was needed. This new-old State Doctrine is the greatness and glory of the Russian nation – and the Russian Orthodox Church is its perfect incorporation. Old churches were restored, and new ones were erected. Whoever visits Moscow today will be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of churches in all possible forms, sizes and colours. It was not so when I first visited the city in 1986.

For most Russians, having an ex-KGB officer as their President is not a problem. It is normality. And the war in Ukraine (and elsewhere) is simply the continuation of the very same foreign policy that was pursued both by the Tsars and the Bolsheviks. As Tsar Nikolay I. once famously put it:  ”где раз подняли русский флаг, он уже спускаться не должен”  (i.e., “where once the Russian flag is hoisted, it must not be taken down again!”). Business as usual, so to say.

But the state ideology has changed once more – and whatever one may think of the close union between Church and State we see today, this change is for the better. For all practical purposes Christianity is more conducive to the common good than Marxism-Leninism. And the promotion of stable families is certainly a better idea than promoting class struggle and collectivization.

If we now turn to look at the United States, we see the nearly opposite scenario. While Americans are (at least by comparison to most Europeans) a very religious nation, they have a secular (not “secularist”) State, with no established religion. The purpose of the clause that there be no established religion is not to fight against religion, but to guarantee religious freedom.

The problem with the US today is that President Obama has a religion of his own making. That religion has abortion and same-sex “marriage” as its most precious sacraments, and Obama is its messiah.

If Obama kept his religion for himself, that would not be such a great problem. In actual fact, however, he puts his position as the head of the executive of the world’s largest and most powerful democracy entirely at the service of this novel religion, promoting sodomy and child-slaughtering domestically and abroad. This includes, in particular, the funding of abortion in developing countries through so-called “development aid”, the use of diplomatic pressure on developing countries to legalize abortion or sodomy, or the public endorsement given by US diplomats to “gay pride” events and other displays of obscenity. These provocative activities have, among many other countries, also targeted Russia  – in particular at the Sochi Winter Olympics, where the US foreign Office orchestrated a “LGBT-rights campaign”. But there, as elsewhere, they have not won over the population for Obama’s noble cause, but provoked astonishment and disgust.

gay activists calling for a boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics

And this is, I believe, where the heart of the matter lies. I don’t believe for a moment that Putin is a devout Christian, nor that he has any particularly strong convictions on homosexuality. But he is not stupid either. He has discovered that, by promoting abortion and sodomy as “human rights”, the US and other Western governments have within a very short period of time depleted all the moral capital they had accumulated during the Cold War. Instead with sympathy and admiration, the West is nowadays viewed with contempt in many regions of the world. For the US, this loss of moral capital is a political disaster of unspeakable dimension – and one doesn’t have the impression that Foggy Bottom is even aware of it. For Russia, by contrast, it is a golden opportunity: stand up for a proper understanding of marriage and the family, gain credibility on human rights (which, for quite different reasons, isn’t really due to them, and act as the leader of a world-wide coalition of countries (including most of Asia and Latin America, and nearly all of Africa) that grow increasingly wary of Obama’s bizarre set of “values”. Putin isn’t a democrat. He simply is a politician who understands that cultural issues can play a very important role in world politics, and who is clever enough to draw an easy profit from America’s moral and social self-destruction. It doesn’t cost him a dime.

There is a second reason for Putin to fight abortion promote “large families”. That reason is that Russia cannot be great if its population is dwindling. Russia not only has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, but she is (for a variety of reasons, which include widespread alcoholism, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS, economic problems, emigration, etc.) losing nearly 1 million inhabitants per year. To halt this decline, decisive action is necessary. It is a matter of survival for Russia as a nation (and hence for Putin as a political leader). Thus it seems to me that Putin is not necessarily fighting abortion out of a deep moral conviction, but for more profane reasons. But these reasons are, in and by themselves, certainly legitimate. One can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and it still remains the right thing.

So whose camp do I choose, Putin’s or Obama’s? Neither. Both have, for very different reasons, a pretty bad human rights record. But both also do some good. When Obama sets out to restore peace and order in the Middle East, I do wish him the best of successes. And when Putin defends marriage and family at the UN, I also wish him all the best. There is not only black and white in this world. There are also many shades of grey.


[1] From that point of view, Catholics and Protestants are all heretics, and hence do not count. As regards the orthodox Churches, it seems natural that the Russian Church views itself as the most important among them. Of all orthodox Christians, 120 million (i.e. roughly 50%) are Russian, whereas the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople nowadays reaches out only to a residuum of some 10.000 Greeks living in Turkey and the Levante. This also relativizes the practical importance of the “ecumenical” gestures the Vatican has in past decades made towards Constantinople. The real shot-caller in the Orthodox community is Moscow, and so far all attempts at arranging a meeting between the Pope and the Russian Patriarch have sadly failed.

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Addressing unintended pregnancies: you’re doing it wrong

Posted on | September 18, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

The Guttmacher Institute recently announced a study saying that as of 2012, 40% of pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and that this is not much different from 2008.

Predictably, they also say that these “findings highlight [the] need for increased investment in contraceptive services.”

Let’s break this down point by point:

1) What is “unintended,” exactly?

The paper helpfully provides the following tautology by way of a definition:

“Unintended pregnancies consist of unplanned births, induced abortions, and miscarriages resulting from unintended pregnancies.”

(Amazing what academic journals will accept these days.)  Fortunately, the Guttmacher Institute published a more comprehensive guide to the taxonomy of pregnancy by intendedness.

Conventional measures of unintended pregnancy are designed to reflect a woman’s intentions before she became pregnant. Unintended pregnancies are pregnancies that are reported to have been either unwanted (i.e., they occurred when no children, or no more children, were desired) or mistimed (i.e., they occurred earlier than desired). In contrast, pregnancies are described as intended if they are reported to have happened at the “right time” or later than desired (because of infertility or difficulties in conceiving). A concept related to unintended pregnancy is unplanned pregnancy—one that occurred when the woman used a contraceptive method or when she did not desire to become pregnant but did not use a method. Intentions are often measured or reported only for pregnancies ending in live births; pregnancies ending in abortion are generally assumed to have been unintended. All of these definitions assume that pregnancy is a conscious decision.”

I included the entire paragraph in order to demonstrate the incongruity of that last sentence.  The Guttmacher Institute apparently thinks that 40% of the world’s conscious decision-making is unintentional.  If this is the case, medication may indeed be called for, but not necessarily of the contraceptive variety.

2) Regions with high “unmet need” for contraceptives do not necessarily have high rates of unintended pregnancy.

The new report says that Africa has the lowest rate of unintended pregnancy in the world (35%), compared with 45% in Europe and 51% in North America.  This is despite the fact that Africa is repeatedly touted as the region with the highest “unmet need” for contraception.  The “unmet need” concept is highly flawed, and as I explain here, even in Africa, less than 2% of married women claim they don’t use contraceptives because of lack of access.

The article says:

“The proportion of pregnancies that were unintended can be low in traditional societies, where many couples want large families”

So, conscious decision-making is at work here.  However, the constant pushing of contraceptives on these traditional societies does have an effect – it can actually drive up the percentage of unintended pregnancies.  Explaining why the rates of unintended pregnancy haven’t changed much since 2008 despite expanded access to contraceptives globally, the authors write:

“This finding is not surprising because, whereas increases in contraceptive use might cause a decrease in the proportion of births that were unplanned, the growing desire to have smaller families can easily offset the effects of contraceptive use on this proportion.”

Let’s think about that for a moment: increased contraceptive use is linked to a desire to have fewer children.  So why would this drive up the rate of unintended pregnancy, unless this contraceptive use were highly prone to failure?

3) Contraceptives are prone to failure

As I noted above, both Europe and North America have rates of unintended pregnancy that are above the global average, despite being industrialized, developed, low-fertility regions.  Now, particularly in light of the recent Supreme Court rulings, some will say that in the United States, contraceptive access remains an issue, but if we turn instead to England, we see this:

“Amongst developed countries, England has the highest rate of unintended pregnancy after the United States (US). Compared to the US, where contraceptive coverage is limited by insurance and reimbursement difficulties, contraception in England is provided free of charge by the National Health Service (NHS) and is used by 88% of women at risk of pregnancy.”

That’s right, contraception available for free, with the government footing the bill, and lots of women are using it.  They’re also getting pregnant, and many are seeking abortions.  The British Pregnancy Advisory Service published new data earlier this year, saying that two thirds of women who came to them for an abortion were using a contraceptive when they became pregnant.  (I discuss it here.)

4) Scratch a contraception advocate, find an abortion advocate

Continuing with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the most telling quote is this, from the organization’s chief executive:

Ultimately women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone, and need accessible abortion services as a back-up for when their contraception lets them down.”

The new Guttmacher report doesn’t explicitly call for increased abortion access, although their organization unambiguously promotes this in many of its publications.  But given the human and technical failures of even the most modern forms of contraception mean that pregnancies will still occur, and while many contraception advocates will plead for support from the pro-life community, saying their products will reduce abortions, it’s very rare to find one who will explicitly say that in the event of a pregnancy, the woman should not be offered an abortion.

5) Unintended (and even unwanted) pregnancies often result in beloved children

Not only are parents of “surprise” children highly likely to accept and love them, they also have a tendency to “reclassify” them as having been intended all along – much to the chagrin of the architects of complex taxonomies of pregnancy wantedness.  Some snippets from the new article:

“the results are likely influenced by changes in women’s attitudes toward these births over time.”

“some women who say they do not want to become pregnant but then do become pregnant and have a child will later report that the pregnancy was intended”

“some pregnancies that are unwanted at conception may be reported some months or years later as mistimed or wanted”

Because this tendency could lead to lower estimates of unintended pregnancy, the authors took steps to gather data in a way that ensured that “women might be less prone to rationalizing the planning status of such births.”

While a certain degree of technicality is to be expected in an academic paper, it’s worth pointing out that this “rationalizing of planning status” could also be described as not only accepting a surprise pregnancy, but becoming so attached to the child that one couldn’t fathom seeing him or her as anything other than wanted from the very beginning.  Of course, some women (and men) find this acceptance comes less easily:

“one can also argue that the births women continue to claim are unintended, even retrospectively, represent those that a woman had a particularly strong or persistent wish to avoid.”

One could argue additionally that if the Guttmacher Institute was really interested in doing something helpful for women with unintended pregnancies, it could study the factors that tend to encourage women’s acceptance of their children and look for ways to foster these things on a global and regional level.

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Christian Charities Need Christian Truth

Posted on | September 16, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

The UK-based organization Christian Aid released a briefing paper dated September 2014 detailing its position on the post-2015 development agenda currently under discussion at the UN.

Under their “Gender Justice” recommendations, Christian Aid calls for:

“Mainstreaming of gender into other areas including health, education, natural-resource management, energy access, peacebuilding, accountable governance and access to justice. This should include specific targets on maternal mortality and on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).”

The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)” is highly controversial language that has never been formally defined and is being promoted as a way to promote abortion and homosexuality.  No country that does not support abortion and homosexuality in the UN context supports the term SRHR.

This isn’t the first time Christian Aid has promoted it, either.  Last year, another report they published on the post-2015 development agenda included this:

“The mainstreaming of sexual education into school curriculums is another important issue – and the integration of all SRHR services, to make sure they are all under one roof, would also encourage women to seek and utilise these services that could save their lives. […] We all need to increase our advocacy in these areas, especially on SRHR, and greater involvement of faith-based actors would be particularly positive.”

That reference to integrated, one-stop SRHR services might as well have come from International Planned Parenthood Federation’s advocacy materials.  Needless to say, it would not only include abortion, but ensure that it is delivered as part of a comprehensive package of services and thus more difficult to isolate and stigmatize.

So does Christian Aid promote abortion?  This might be problematic, given that they claim the Greek, Russian, and Oriental Orthodox Churches among their official church sponsors, as well as over 30 other (Protestant) bodies that may individually take issue with such a stance.

For instance, the Holy Orthodox Church, which includes the major Orthodox groups in the United States, expressed the following in a 1988 submission to the US Supreme Court:

“The Holy Orthodox Church was founded by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and bears witness to that continuous and unbroken faith.  The precepts of the Orthodox Christian faith mandate the protection of innocent human life, especially that of unborn children. The Church regards abortion as murder, and as such, takes a very active role in opposing legalized abortion.”

No ambiguity there – very forthrightly stated.  What if one were to ask Christian Aid about its stance on this issue?

In their Winter 2011 newsletter, Matt Gibbs did just that when he wrote, “Your International Director Paul Valentin says: ‘Part of the answer is improving reproductive health services.’ Can you tell me if this includes abortion?”

Mr. Valentin responded:

“To clarify, we are talking about giving poor men and women choice about how many children to have and when.  This starts with providing basic health services to ensure safer childbirth and better mother and child survival.  It also includes giving information about sexual health and the provision of safe, effective contraception without coercion.  Christian Aid does not consider abortion to be a desirable form of contraception.”

Anytime a simple yes-or-no question receives a paragraph in response, there’s likely to be some obfuscation in play.  First it should be clarified that abortion is not a form of “contraception” at all, since it does not block conception.  The kindest term one could use would be “birth control,” but I’ll concur with the Orthodox statement above and go with “murder.”

Second, whether abortion is deemed to be “desirable” or not, that is not the question Mr. Gibbs asked.  The relevant matter is whether Christian Aid is promoting abortion through their advocacy work (which their position papers on the development agenda would seem to indicate) or funding it either directly or indirectly.  Mr. Valentin’s response did not address those points.

While Christian Aid may be reluctant to take a clear position on the abortion issue, they published a report in 2011 updating the status of a health project in Sierra Leone.  In it, they cited the importance of developing “strong links with a range of local stakeholders” including “other international organizations working on complementary projects. […] Particularly relevant is a link with Marie Stopes…”

Relevant, indeed.  Marie Stopes is an organization that performs abortions and actively advocates for abortion, including in Sierra Leone.  The Marie Stopes clinics in Sierra Leone do not explicitly offer abortion among their available services , but claim to “provide a full range of high quality, affordable and client-focused sexual and reproductive health services to women, men and young people.”

Marie Stopes was previously directed to suspend their operations in Zambia after disclosing that it was performing illegal abortions there.   They have also admitted to performing illegal abortions in Kenya and, in a video clip recorded in London in 2007, their Programme Director in South Africa admitted to doing illegal abortions all around the world.

All of this raises some very important questions.  First, why is Christian Aid so hesitant to own its own position on abortion?  If they think it is valid health care and good for women, they should be bold in saying so, and if they think it is the needless killing of innocent children, they should be equally forthright – and refuse to partner with organizations that actively commit abortions with no regard for national laws, much less the lives of the unborn.  Second, given Christian Aid’s dubious track record thus far, why do the Orthodox Churches whichever other sponsoring churches claim a pro-life position continue to lend credibility and support to this organization?

All international aid organizations have a weighty responsibility to be good stewards, for the sake of both their donors and their beneficiaries, and that includes transparency about their work and the values that guide it.  Those organizations that bear the name of Christ have an even greater duty in this regard, as they are explicitly sent to serve the least among us, in His name, not to destroy them.

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Hillary Clinton tells international feminists she’s embarrassed by the United States

Posted on | September 15, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

On Friday, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a keynote speaker at a two-day conference of international feminists in New York.  During her remarks, she was asked whether the United States was likely to ratify the international treaty to combat discrimination against women, known as CEDAW.

The question prompted laughter from the audience, and then Clinton gave her answer:

Well, you would think the answer was likely…but honestly, as a senator who tried, as a secretary of state who tried, we have to change the Senate and try to get people who will support that, I mean, we submitted the disabilities treaty which you would have thought would have been pretty much…easy to pass.  It was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities, and even Bob Dole on the floor of the Senate couldn’t get the votes that were needed.  On CEDAW, we are just still struggling to try to get a favorable committee that would then pass it on to the floor and try to get the votes for it.”

 She went on to say:

 “The short answer is, not for lack of trying, but for absence of support, and we just have to keep working on it.  It is embarrassing, I mean, really, it’s embarrassing.”

Her embarrassment was shared by John Podesta, who was White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, a co-chairman of President Obama’s transition team.  During his remarks on Thursday, the current chair of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress said:

We remain embarrassed that the United States Senate can’t ratify CEDAW, but we’re not done trying, we’ll keep at it.  There are a bunch of people who think that the United States can’t ratify anything these days, but we’re going to keep working at it.”

 Both Clinton and Podesta alluded to the repeated failure of the US Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been generally regarded as less controversial than CEDAW.

Robert Menendez, a Democratic Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the US’s general reluctance to bind itself to UN treaties – inadvertently slighting the importance of the issues facing those with disabilities in the process.  In a November, 2013 interview on PBS, he said:

And then, finally, you know, if we cannot pass [CRPD] — this treaty is about as much as motherhood, apple pie as you can get — if we cannot pass this treaty, we’re not going to pass any treaties here on any substantive issues.”

Emphasis on “substantive” rather than “any.”

Given that former Secretary Clinton’s speech Friday was to a room full of leaders in the global pro-abortion movement, motherhood and apple pie probably weren’t in much demand there either.

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India’s Two-Child Policy

Posted on | September 8, 2014 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

Fascinating article on little known regional population control policies in India that have had a terrible effect on their people. The laws in question prohibit anyone with more than two children from running for office. Researchers from the United States, The United Kingdom, and India, are showing that this has had a very bad impact on sex ratio. More alarmingly, the laws had the opposite of their desired effect by leading to more poverty. From the article: “There is evidence that men were divorcing their wives to remain eligible for elections, and that such laws were putting the third children at a disadvantage.”

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European “Humanists”: embarrassment or silent sympathy with Dawkins’ attack on disabled persons?

Posted on | September 5, 2014 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D.

Following the world-wide astonishment and outrage over British “humanist” Richard Dawkins’ rant that mothers giving birth to children who have been diagnosed with Down Syndrome are acting “immorally”, we are surprised to find that neither the British Humanist Association (BHA), nor the European Humanist Federation (EHF), nor the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) have found it necessary to clarify whether they agree or disagree with this statement.

Mr. Dawkins is not only a well-known evolution biologist, but also pontificates as a promoter of “humanism”, “reason”, and a “scientific world view”. It is for this reason that BHA gave him their ‘Services to Humanism’ award in 2012. In fact, it seems that Mr. Dawkins is getting the same award every other year, given that already 2009 one could read that BHA and IHEU had jointly awarded him a prize for his merits in promoting reason and science across the world. Further distinctions Mr. Dawkins has received for his “humanist” achievements include (without claim to completeness) the honorary doctorate from the (masonic) Université Libre de Bruxelles, the American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year Award (1996), the 2001 and 2012 Emperor Has No Clothes Award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Bicentennial Kelvin Medal of The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow (2002), or the Deschner Award, named after German anti-clerical author Karlheinz Deschner.

Pushing their adulation for Mr. Dawkins still one step further, the the Atheist Alliance International has since 2003 awarded a “Richard Dawkins Award” during its annual conference to honour outstanding atheists.
Mr. Dawkins callous attack against the right of life of disabled persons has caused embarrassed silence among the promoters of “humanism”, who in fact for so many years seem to have honoured a veritable anti-humanist. How will (BHA-style) “humanism” be able to claim that it stands for respect and non-discrimination, when its most prominent figurehead publicly asserts that people with handicaps should not be allowed to exist?

Or maybe the silence is not one of embarrassment, but of complacency? Maybe those self-appointed “humanists” all agree that people with a handicap should be extinguished? This would then raise further questions: for example, whether that judgment applies only to people with Down Syndrome, or also to other disabilities? Would there be any disability that the “humanists” would be prepared to accept or at least to tolerate? If so, which?

On a more practical note, there is also a question the European Commission might want to answer: is it really appropriate to continue receiving the EHF and similar organisations within the framework of the Commission’s regular meetings with “philosophical and non-confessional organisations” under Article 17 of the TFEU? What are people with Down Syndrome (or their parents) supposed think of the Commission’s rolling out the red carpet for EHF?

So there is an urgent need for clarification. Given that the representatives of EHF here in Brussels, whom I know to be assiduous followers of this blog, will not fail to read this post, I am sure they will soon explain us their point of view.

Should they prefer to remain silent, there is only one possible conclusion: QUI TACET CONSENTIRE VIDETUR.

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Richard Dawkins wants extermination for Down’s syndrome babies

Posted on | August 20, 2014 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D.

Kills not with his hands, but with his words: Richard Dawkins

There are people who have compassion with the weak, the sick, the handicapped and the elderly. And then there are so-called “humanists”.

According to the world-renowned champion of “humanism”, it is “immoral to allow babies with Down-syndrome to be born“.

Always the same story: old distinguished white-haired professor proffers  a crazy theory, some years later someone will start putting it into practice…. Karl Marx was such a guy: he himself didn’t kill anyone with his own hands, but the ideology that bears his name was one of the most murderous in history. Same goes for Dawkins: from now on nobody should pretend he wasn’t aware how dangerous his ilk of “humanism” is.

 

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‘Baby Gammy’ raises awareness for true nature of ‘surrogacy motherhood’. But the European Court of Human Rights has no qualms…

Posted on | August 12, 2014 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D.

After two weeks of media reports on baby Gammy, is difficult to discern which version of the story is the one we should believe. Is it true that the Australian couple who used the services of a Thai “surrogate mom”, upon learning that one of the two children that the “surrogate mom” was expecting suffered from Down syndrome, asked her to have an abortion? Is it true that, when finally the “surrogate mom” gave birth to both children, the wannabe “parents” took the healthy child home to Australia, leaving the “surrogate mom” with the handicapped one? Is it true that they were aware that they were in fact having two children instead of one? Or is it true, as they claim, that the agency that was handling the “surrogacy pregnancy” never informed them of the second child and its handicap?
Whatever may be the case, one thing is certain: such cases are bound to occur, and even with great frequency, wherever the practice of “surrogacy motherhood” is accepted. Surrogacy motherhood is the quintessential expression of a mentality that is unwilling to accept parenthood as a gift, but that assumes that everybody has an entitlement to have a child. And of course, once this “right to a child” is accepted, it soon evolves into a “right to a healthy child”. Children that suffer from mental defects or physical malformations need not be accepted, because our self-given entitlement is to have only children that fully correspond to our ambitions.

Children, it appears, are now a commodity. It is a “flesh-for-cash” business. In other words: a new form of trafficking, or of slave trade.

If I buy children from a "surrogacy mom", they better had be perfect. If not, they will be returned.

It is a strange coincidence that more or less at the same time when the Gammy story surfaced the international media, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued two judgments in which it castigated France for not having given full legal effect to the “surrogacy agreements” French couples had concluded abroad.

Upon reading those judgments in closer detail, it appears that the Court did not intend to explicitly recognize the use of “surrogacy moms” as a new human right.
For all practical purposes, however, this is what those judgments do. Bizarrely, they argue that this is in the best interest of the children concerned, as it might spare them all uncertainties regarding their entitlement to the French citizenship as well as regarding the legal recognition of their “family lives”.

This reasoning is (as is habitual with Europe’s undeservedly “prestigious” human rights institution) completely unfounded, both legally and factually. Both cases concerned children who were created in vitro in a California based fertility clinic, using the sperm of their French fathers and the ova of American women who, according to this peculiar business model, “donated” them. Being the children of French citizens, they always were under French law entitled to French citizenship – irrespective of whether the State was, or was not, going to recognize the “motherhood” of their fathers’ respective spouses (who, in both cases, were infertile, and biologically completely unrelated to the children). The truth is: no application for French citizenship seems to have been made – and therefore, no such application had been rejected. How can it then be claimed that the State had violated anybody’s rights?

The second limb of the Court’s reasoning is equally bizarre. In order to give legal recognition to the children’s relationships with women who are not their mother, the Court obliges the French authorities to adopt legal decisions that would sever all legal relationships with the women that are, indeed, their mothers. Just another step in the Court’s gradual re-definition of “family life”, which from a well-defined biological reality is turned into some kind of social role-play…
It is very good that the Gammy case has, at least for some days, shed some light on the implications brought about by the horrible practice of “surrogacy motherhood”.

Maybe if such cases come up in the media with greater frequency, this will at last trigger some kind of reflexion process even at the ECtHR…

The two ECtHR judgments:
Menesson v. France
Labassée v. France

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What Babatunde Didn’t Tell Ugandan Youth

Posted on | August 5, 2014 by Lisa Correnti

At a recent Family Planning Conference in Kampala co-hosted by Uganda’s Ministry of Health and UNFPA,  sexual health advocates and development partners addressed young people on access and information for modern contraceptives — leaving out though — how these contraceptives could result in contracting HIV/AIDS, increasing breast cancer risk and rendering them sterile.

UNFPA champions sexual and reproductive rights throughout the developing world which includes comprehensive sex-ed to the very young, and access to modern contraceptives and so-called “safe” abortion. Abstinence programs don’t seem to make the agenda.

Prioritized and distributed through intermediaries like International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International are long-acting hormonal progesterone contraceptives not only among married women but among adolescent girls. These implants and injectables are being promoted among adolescent girls despite a black box warning for osteoporosis, a double risk of breast cancer and increased risk of HIV transmission.

The injectable depo provera is not recommended for more than 2 years of use due to irreplaceable bone mineral loss. Women also experience prolonged bleeding and delay or loss of fertility. The drugs manufacturer Pfizer does not recommend its use for women that want to have more children.

Reproductive rights advocates, the World Health Organization and US agencies are all aware of the serious nature of these progesterone only hormonal contraceptives. Yet, the scale-up throughout developing countries continues. Why? Because these stakeholders view pregnancy as the worse outcome weighing it up against the risk of possible health issues from injectable use.

The same reproductive rights advocates who loudly yell for sexual and reproductive health policy as a human right have colluded in the coverup of information about the serious side effects of progesterone contraceptives.

This week civil rights attorney Willie Gary visited members of the U.S. Congress informing them he will bring suit against Pfizer for fraud and requested lawmakers take action to stop funding Depo Provera and Norplant 2 through development assistance programs.

While rich foundations may continue to fund global abortion providers for the distribution of these injectables – funding from the US should soon end.

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One of Us: Complaint by Citizens’ Committee brings EU Institutions into embarrassing situation.

Posted on | August 1, 2014 by J.C. von Krempach, J.D.

Following the flat refusal of the European Commission to take any action in response to the successful European Citizen Initiative ONE OF US, the organisers of the initiative have now filed a formal lawsuit against the EU’s executive.

In the 30-page complaint (which we make available online on this blog for the convenience of our readers), the citizens’ committee meticulously exposes the lack of argument and intellectual poverty of the Commission’s answer to the initiative, which had been signed by nearly two million citizens. It comes to the conclusion that this response was inadequate, and hence violates the Commission’s obligations.

It will be very interesting to follow the further developments of this lawsuit. The inadequacy of the Commission’s response to the initiative will be clearly apparent to anyone who reads the well-drafted complaint, and it is unlikely that the EU judges will be able to find any words of praise for the way in which the Commission has reacted to a legislative proposal that would ban the funding of abortions through the EU budget. But the fundamental question that the Court will have to answer is a different one: whether or not EU Regulation 211/2011, which provides the legal basis for such formal petitions, gives the Commission the right to give inadequate responses to unwelcome citizens’ initiatives.

In other words, this is not about abortion anymore. It is a real test case for democracy in Europe. The outcome of this lawsuit will determine the future not of the ONE OF US initiative (which in any case has spelt out a political agenda that seems likely to remain on the table for years to come), but of the European Citizen Initiative as an instrument of participative democracy.

The Court thus faces a dilemma: on the basis of a strict reading the wording of Regulation 211/2011 it may well find that the Commission has a nearly unlimited margin of appreciation in dealing with successful citizens’ initiatives, and thus may turn them down on the basis of the flimsiest reasoning (or, in the extreme case, without any reasoning at all). But that would simply mean that it makes no sense for citizens to use this new instrument. On the other hand, if the applicants’ claim is upheld, this would mean that the Commission’s monopoly of initiative would have come to an end.

The Court may be strongly tempted to wriggle out of this dilemma by finding some formal subterfuge for not dealing with the complaint. But such a strategy would not work out: rejecting the complaint on formal grounds would simply mean that citizens have no possibility to legally challenge the Commission’s response to their initiative, even if that response is clearly inadequate. And this would in turn mean that the citizen’s initiative, which was introduced in 2011 to add an element of democracy to the EU, is nothing than an empty promise.

There is no way out: the EU’s citizens want to know what a European Citizen Initiative is really good for. And the Court, one way or the other, must give them an answer.

REQUETE One of US rev-FINAL

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Judicial Pride and Prejudice: Dedov’s Dissent in Fernández Martinez v Spain

Posted on | July 30, 2014 by Roger Kiska, J.D.

Last month, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights decided the case of Fernández Martínez v. Spain. Much has been written about the main judgment, a decision that upheld the religious autonomy of the church by the slimmest of margins—the votes of nine judges to eight. But less has been said about Judge Dmitry Dedov’s two-page dissenting opinion, which raises a few eyebrows. If his views take hold it could mark the end of religious freedom as we know it.

Firstly, some brief facts. In 1984 Mr Martínez, a Catholic priest, applied to the Vatican to be excused from the obligation of celibacy. Before they responded—and this took some time—he got married and had five children. In 1991 he started work as a teacher at a Catholic religious and morals state school under a renewable one-year contract. Under the terms of a treaty between Spain and the Holy See, the contract would be renewed by the Ministry of Education as long as the local Bishop continued to give his approval.

In 1996 an article about the Movement for Optional Celibacy of Priests was published that made Martinez’s dissent from the celibacy rule public. Nine months later, the local Bishop withdrew his approval of Martinez as a teacher, and his contract was not renewed. Martinez sued the Spanish government and his case made it through the Spanish domestic courts to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which narrowly rejected Martinez’s application, thus maintaining the autonomy of the Catholic Church to dismiss its clerics.

Judge Dedov clearly disagreed with this ruling. He began his dissent with a lofty view of the court’s ‘task’. He thought it was to ‘balance the rights and place them into some hierarchy’. But no one has actually given him or the court the legal or political mandate to establish any ‘hierarchy’ of rights. No authority was cited on this point too. In fact, the court has never attempted to develop a system where certain rights would always trump others. Rather, it has always stressed that attention must be given to the facts and circumstances of the particular case.

However, the court’s task so defined gave Judge Dedov room to be unapologetic about his prejudices against the celibacy rule. He said that the Church was not entitled ‘to persecute [its] members for exercising their fundamental human rights’. He went on to say, ‘If the Convention system is intended to combat totalitarianism, then there is no reason to tolerate the sort of totalitarianism that can be seen in the present case.’ One wonders what those who survived the horrors of real totalitarianism in the twentieth century would say.

In the end, the thrust of Judge Dedov’s opinion is this: ‘[T]he celibacy rule contradicts the idea of fundamental human rights and freedoms. This, in my view, should be used as a principal reason for finding a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.’ It is one thing for a judge to disparage a religious practice. It is quite another for him to criticize it on the basis of human rights.

If Judge Dedov wrote the main judgment, would he order the Church to change its rules? He does state that ‘optional celibacy is the best way out of this problem’. What would he say about monks, nuns and ascetics of other faiths, or all the other priests that remain today with the Catholic Church? We get a hint of this when he discusses what he regards as Spain’s chief failure: ‘[T]he State has failed, not just to abstain from interference concerning the applicant, but also to exercise its positive obligation with respect to at least 6,000 priests of the Catholic Church [in Spain].’ It appears that in Judge Dedov’s world, the State must liberate the woeful prisoners of celibacy.

With respect, he cannot be right. The celibacy rule does not contradict human rights for the simple reason that one can choose not to abide by it. There is a clear difference between not having a right and choosing not to exercise it. Judge Dedov dismisses the argument from free choice for the rather opaque reason that ‘family life cannot be subjected to any transaction’. He seems to be saying that one cannot choose to sacrifice one’s ability to have a family in order to be a priest, or for any other reason. But people make such sacrifices all the time, and for various reasons. Taken to its logical conclusion, Judge Dedov’s position is fundamentally absurd and illiberal. With no legitimacy he imposes his value system and his version of a ‘hierarchy of rights’ on the Convention by elevating Article 8 to the status of an inalienable natural right. That in any case flatly contradicts the wording of the article. The lack of citation of any authority is stark, although to his literary credit Judge Dedov does mention The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Thorn Birds in support of his disdain for the celibacy rule. But one wonders if that goes anywhere remotely beyond confirming his pride and prejudice.

Ultimately, Judge Dedov’s dissent clearly reveals that he was not content with interpreting and applying the law. If judicial preconceptions are not contained, religious freedom will be extinguished by those whose very role is to protect its existence. It can only be hoped that the court continues to be the guardian of human rights through the rule of law, and not the rule of judges.

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Learning From Bodies

Posted on | July 28, 2014 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

Must read article on First Things online.

Excerpt:

I have now spent a lot of time with other people’s bodies—very old bodies and very new bodies, severely disabled, sick, or just plain worn-out bodies, bodies in labor, bodies that are well and strong, and the bodies left behind by death. Looking back, I realize that changing my mind about abortion was actually one of the least significant steps toward becoming truly pro-life. There are things that can be learned—can be said—only in the language of bodies. There is a specific wisdom to be gained through the experience of being with actual people: their actual pregnancies, illnesses, births, and deaths. And many of the lessons that bodies teach can barely be translated into words.

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Study on Assisted Suicide in The Case Law of The European Court of Human Rights.

Posted on | July 25, 2014 by Grégor Puppinck, Ph.D

The European Centre for Law and Justice recently published a detailed study on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law on assisted suicide in the International Journal of Human Rights. Here is the summary.

Claire de laHougue and Grégor Puppinck, doctors in law, published a study on behalf of the European Centre for Law and Justice, analysing the progressive elaboration of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) of a “right to assisted suicide” under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). This “right” is established from a succession of judgments from the Pretty v. the United Kingdom case to the Alda Gross v. Switzerland judgment (n° 67810/10) of 14th May 2013 where the Court condemned the current Swiss legal framework on assisted suicide by four votes to three, reckoning that it lacked precision and ought to be governed by legal norms and not deontological ones.

Upon the request of the Swiss government, the Court decided to refer the Gross case to the Grande Chamber to be retried. The chamber’s judgment of May 2013, followed the Pretty v. the United Kingdom (n° 2346/02, 29th April 2002), Haas v. Switzerland (n° 31322/07, 20th January 2011) and Koch v. Germany (no 497/09, 19th July 2012) cases whereby the Court gradually specified the outlines of a right to assisted suicide. According to the Court, such right results from the fact that “in an era of growing medical sophistication combined with longer life expectancies, many people are concerned that they should not be forced to linger on in old age or in states of advanced physical or mental decrepitude which conflict with strongly held ideas of self and personal identity”. (Gross, para. 58).

In the Pretty case, the Court had stated : “[t]he applicant in this case is prevented by law from exercising her choice to avoid what she considers will be an undignified and distressing end to her life. The Court is not prepared to exclude that this constitutes an interference with her right to respect for private life as guaranteed under Article 8 para. 1 of the Convention.” (Pretty, para. 67). The Court also specified that: “Article 2 [guaranteeing the right to life] cannot, without a distortion of language, be interpreted as conferring the diametrically opposite right, namely a right to die; nor can it create a right to self-determination in the sense of conferring on an individual the entitlement to choose death rather than life.” (Pretty, para. 39).

In the Haas judgment, the Court affirmed the existence, in the article 8, of “an individual’s right to decide by what means and at what point his or her life will end, provided he or she is capable of freely reaching a decision on this question and acting in consequence” (Haas, para. 51) and it introduces the hypothesis that the States could have “a positive obligation to adopt measures to facilitate the act of suicide with dignity” (Haas, para. 61).

In the Koch judgment, the Court carefully limited its appreciation of Stat’s positive obligations under Article 8 on the procedural aspect by asking that a jurisdiction should judge on a case-by-case basis, on the validity of individual requests for assisted suicide.

According to the Court, suicide is an expression of individual autonomy. Consequently, the primary reason for a “right to assisted suicide” would not be due to suffering or the inevitable death, but due to respect for individual freedom. To base the right to assisted suicide on individual freedom makes incoherent reserving access to assisted suicide to only bedridden individuals whose freedom is strongly affected by their state. Logically, according to this approach, exercising a “right to assisted suicide” should be reserved for persons whose physical and mental capacities are intact.

With this approach, the State’s responsibility would not be to prevent suicide and protect people’s lives but solely to ensure the quality of the suicidal will to die, to protect his freedom and to prevent abuses of a state of weakness. By adopting such reasoning; the court transcribes contemporary post-humanism, revolutionizing a foundation of the Convention: human dignity would no longer be inherent in human nature, but relative and reflexive, absorbed by individual freedom.

The issue of the existence of such a “right to assisted suicide” under the ECHR is currently suspended on the Grand Chamber’s judgment in the Gross v. Switzerland case (n° 67810/10). However, contrary to the Court’s customs and for a reason unknown to the public, the hearing before the Grande Chamber which should have taken place last April was cancelled and postponed sine die.

——–

Gregor Puppinck & Claire de LaHougue(2014): “The right to assisted suicide in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights”, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2014.926891 ;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2014.926891

 

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Spanish Bill On Abortion : Balancing The Mother And Child’s Interests

Posted on | July 24, 2014 by Grégor Puppinck, Ph.D

Between Thursday, 3rd July and Friday, 4th July, 150 delegates from 16 different European and South American countries along with Spanish representatives met in the Spanish Parliament’s buildings for a conference organized by the “World Action of Parliamentarians and Government representatives for Life and Family”. They discussed the new “Bill on the protection of the unborn child’s rights and the pregnant woman’s rights” issued in December 2013 by the Spanish government and which will soon be discussed in Parliament. The latter reforms the organic law n°2/2010 on “sexual and reproductive health and the voluntary termination of pregnancy” which had been heavily criticized particularly during the 2009 demonstrations, where a million people expressed their discontent. (Here is a complete analysis of the bill by the ECLJ)

After the Spanish representative and General Secretary for the World Action of Parliamentarians José Eugenio Azpiro, and Angel Pintado, Senator and President of this organization introduced the conference, different professionals intervened in the debate. A scientist (Dr. Nicolás Jouve), a doctor (Dr. Ana Martin), a philosopher (Pr. Christophe Tollefsen) and Grégor Puppinck, expressed their views.

Grégor Puppinck, director of the ECLJ (European Center for Law and Justice) in Strasbourg, first highlighted the fact that, though it reflects a minority opinion in Europe, this Bill fits perfectly within the European Court of Human Rights’ case-law and complies with all European and international conventions. Indeed no international convention that would create the right to abortion exists. On the contrary, the Spanish Bill offers to protect the right to life within the framework of international conventions. He then described how abortion should no longer be considered from a unilateral but from a bilateral and even multilateral perspective.

The notion of the ‘right to abortion’ has to be questioned since it implies that abortion is a positive and subjective unilateral right, which only takes into account the interest of the mother. Such a view leads to the denial of the existence and value of the unborn child against which this right applies. This is the perspective from which the Spanish law adopted by the previous government used to stand. This unilateral approach to the right to abortion is ideological since it is based on the negation of a part of reality (the child) and since it makes the will of a third person (the mother) prevail in it. As of any ideological approach, its full implementation is damaging: if such a right to abortion existed, all limits would have to be suppressed and abortion would have to be authorized without any time limit condition.

What stands against the right to abortion is reality: the embryo, the fetus, the unborn child, all really and truly exist. What’s more, they possess all the characteristics of a human being at each stage of his development. To acknowledge this reality, the legislation on abortion has to take into account both the interest of the mother and that of the child in a bilateral juridical perspective. Those interests should then be balanced when they are contradictory and proportionate measures that protect both mother and child should be adopted. This is how a relative right to abortion is conceived: abortion is primarily an exception to the child’s right to life. That’s why in many countries, including France, it was not legalized but decriminalized. If the unborn child had no value, no law would be needed to authorize abortion.

The bilateral approach is however insufficient to comprehend the issue of abortion in any consistent way. From the social point of view, the issue of abortion has to be dealt with from a multilateral perspective in order to place the mother-child relationship in its natural context. This multilateral approach, which involves different players including the family and society, is necessary in order to go beyond the conflicting bilateral relationship between the mother and the child and to remedy the causes of this conflict. Those causes are often independent from the mother-child relationship and often reside in social, economic and affective difficulties.

Society is indeed an essential player in this mother-child relationship. It is responsible for the protection of their health as well as social and economic interests.  Abortion is therefore a ‘public’ rather than a private problem, as highlighted by the Spanish senator Beatriz Elorriaga and different speakers during the conference. Indeed it is the state’s duty to protect the unborn child’s right to life. Abortion is also a real issue of public health in countries, including Portugal, where it is carried out at a high rate. Rather than protecting an almost unlimited right to abortion, the conference advocates for the development of social services to help the mother and the child along with efficient alternatives to the VTP, especially when the child is handicapped. Finally, if demographic considerations play an important part, ethical and familial considerations are also central is this Bill and it is necessary for all persons involved in the act of abortion to be associated with it. The Bill purports to support families, make them more responsible and to give medical staff the option to act in all honesty.

The Bill is therefore above all based on “the observation of the true existence of the conceived child” (Grégor Puppinck) and his right to existence. It provides for an exception to the right to life of the unborn child in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy if the latter results from rape, and in the first 22 weeks if there exists a threat to the life of the woman or the child. This risk has to be asserted by a committee of independent experts. Finally abortion is authorized until the full term of pregnancy if there is an “incompatibility with life” that had not been diagnosed during the first 22 weeks and which is medically certified. This time period of 22 weeks corresponds with the level of viability as established by the World Health Organization. In addition, the advertising of abortion is prohibited and doctors and medical staff are given the option to use conscientious objection whenever they do not wish to carry out this act. A minor’s parents have the right to be informed of the pregnancy of their child. The pregnant woman also has to be informed of the fact that she is entitled to a period for reflection.

Members of the conference explained that in spite of the spread of “systematic abortion” in many countries and of the generalization of the perception of abortion as a right, this Bill is not singular. It mirrors a parallel trend towards the increasing protection of the unborn child, in the United States in particular. Thus the Hungarian Secretary of State, Bence Rétvari explained that in his country, the rights to life and to the protection of family are constitutional rights. In the US, numerous states have reduced the legal time limit for abortion (for example, North Dakota has limited it to 6weeks of pregnancy). An estimated 49% of the population considers that it is an immoral act. The Spanish Bill seeks to pioneer this domain.

The Bill should be examined in the coming months and adopted by December 2014.

At the end of the conference, speakers and representatives adopted the Madrid Declaration, committing to the defense of life and the right of the unborn. The Declaration establishes fecundation as the ‘Big Bang’ of life; it concludes that “nothing is more progressive than the defense of human life.

A complete analysis of the bill by the ECLJ.

 

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UN Disabilities Treaty Set to Fail in U.S.

Posted on | July 22, 2014 by Wendy Wright


A key senator admitted today the U.S. Senate will not ratify the UN Disabilities Treaty. Senator Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the committee the treaty does not have the votes to pass the full senate.

A series of amendments voted on by the committee confirmed concerns raised by four-dozen groups – ranging from disability rights to legal and global norms experts – who urged senators not to ratify the UN Disabilities Treaty. In a letter to senators, 48 groups (two joined after publication) caution the treaty will not help Americans here or abroad, but would encroach on Americans’ rights, open the U.S. to foreign intrusion on family issues and abortion, and reduce U.S. prominence as the world leader on disabilities rights.

The committee recommended the treaty by a vote of 10 – 6, along with three amendments agreed to unanimously: to protect parent’s right to homeschool children; to protect U.S. sovereignty; to declare UN committee’s recommendations have no authority to change U.S. laws.

One amendment, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio, stated the treaty could not be used to promote a right to abortion, repeating the U.S. statement when the treaty was adopted at the UN. It was defeated by pro-abortion senators along party lines.

U.N. treaty committees frequently intrude on countries’ sovereign prerogatives, especially on abortion – regardless of countries’ reservations or amendments.

“The U.S. is the world’s undisputed leader in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities – all without the U.S. ever having ratified the CRPD,” the groups said. The U.S. advises countries on ways to assist people with disabilities and provides foreign aid to help countries implement the Disabilities treaty,

Some claim the treaty places no obligations on the U.S., yet requires other countries to change their laws to accommodate U.S. citizens abroad. But U.S. ratification “will not – and cannot – place any obligation on other countries, least of all to accommodate U.S. citizens,” notes the groups.

Ironically, Sen. Menendez said he couldn’t support the pro-life amendment because, he claimed, it could prevent disabled persons from getting sexual and reproductive services — indicating a belief that the treaty could be used to radically alter U.S. law.

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Community support for abstinence can assist in HIV prevention

Posted on | July 22, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

The Guttmacher Institute just published a report looking at community influences on the sexual activity of young people in a province of Kenya, and found that in communities that used abstinence education as the main HIV prevention message, young men were more likely to delay sexual activity.  Additionally, young people were more likely to abstain when AIDS was acknowledged as a cause of deaths in the community – when the connections between sexual activity, HIV/AIDS, and death are publicly admitted, young people experience less pressure toward early sexual activity and feel more empowered to abstain from it.

The issue of delaying sexual debut among young people recently became a contentious issue at the UN during the Commission on the Status of Women.  The document under consideration was about prevention of HIV/AIDS among women and girls in Africa.  The Friday Fax reported:

“In a surprise move, the Dutch delegate intervened to amend the resolution on behalf of the US and other countries in Europe and Latin America. They could not accept a mention of “delay of sexual debut” in a paragraph on helping women and girls protect themselves from HIV. Among the other defenses against HIV left in were condoms, gender equality, and gender sensitivity.”

In contrast, the Guttmacher report refers to delayed sexual debut as a “positive behavioral outcome” and acknowledges that it “is an important HIV prevention strategy.”

Pointing out that most previous studies on the timing of sexual debut focus on individual-level rather than community-level variables, the authors look for correlations between the age of sexual initiation and practices and norms within the broader community.

Among the factors correlated with delayed sexual debut:

  • Abstinence being taught to youth as the primary AIDS prevention message
  • Young men with greater “abstinence self-efficacy”
  • Public acknowledgment of AIDS as the cause of deaths within the community

“Self-efficacy” referred to young men expressing the belief that they could say no to sex and planned to do so in the future.  This finding is particularly important given the context of what is commonly referred to as “comprehensive sexuality education” (CSE) in UN documents.  C-FAM recently published a briefing paper by a group of Spanish experts who point out that the curricula favored by CSE proponents “usually rely heavily upon the concept of “risk reduction” [condoms] since they assume “risk avoidance” [abstinence] is not possible.”

Empowering young men to believe that abstinence is both possible and beneficial leads to later sexual initiation, which in turn is linked to having fewer sexual partners and a reduced risk of contracting HIV.  The same report found that “condom self-efficacy”, or a sense of empowerment to use condoms during sex, was not significantly associated with delayed sexual debut.  If anything, reliance on condoms could have a perverse effect:

“Earlier debut was associated with reporting a larger number of sources of pressure to have sex and with living in a community where HIV programming was part of community festivals (typically in the form of condom distribution).”

As these results show, young people are capable of making informed decisions, but they do not do so in a vacuum – the values and priorities of the broader community play an important role in encouraging and empowering them to do so.  This is particularly critical in HIV-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa, where a tyranny of low expectations around sexual behavior can have deadly consequences.

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The ECHR does not impose an obligation on Contracting States to grant same-sex couples access to marriage

Posted on | July 17, 2014 by Grégor Puppinck, Ph.D

The European Court of Human Rights, sitting as a Grand Chamber, in the case of Hämäläinen v. Finland, Application no. 37359/09, 16 July 2014 reaffirmed:

Regarding article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

 “71.  The Court reiterates its case-law according to which Article 8 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as imposing an obligation on Contracting States to grant same-sex couples access to marriage (see Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, no. 30141/04, § 101, ECHR 2010).”

 

Regarding article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

 *96.  The Court reiterates that Article 12 of the Convention is a lex specialis for the right to marry. It secures the fundamental right of a man and woman to marry and to found a family. Article 12 expressly provides for regulation of marriage by national law. It enshrines the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman (see Rees v. the United Kingdom, cited above, § 49). While it is true that some Contracting States have extended marriage to same-sex partners, Article 12 cannot be construed as imposing an obligation on the Contracting States to grant access to marriage to same-sex couples (see Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, cited above, § 63).”

 

Regarding the alleged “European standards and consensus” that would prevent states from defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman:

 “73.  From the information available to the Court (see paragraph 31 above [(Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlandsand the United Kingdom(Englandand Walesonly)])., it appears that currently ten member States allow same-sex marriage.” (…)  “74.  Thus, it cannot be said that there exists any European consensus on allowing same-sex marriages.”

 

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UN Human Rights Committee bullies Ireland over its protections for unborn babies

Posted on | July 16, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

Ireland has once again come under fire for their laws protecting the lives of both pregnant women and their children.  The Geneva-based Human Rights Committee characterized this provision of Ireland’s constitution as “unacceptable cruelty.”

The Dublin-based group Family and Life reminded the committed chairman that there is no international right to abortion, a position the chairman called “breathtakingly arrogant.”

C-FAM’s Austin Ruse reports at Breitbart London here.

Family and Life’s report is here.

Stay tuned for more in an upcoming Friday Fax.

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“Unmet Need” 2.0: Carrot, Stick, or Spoonful of Sugar? Moving from Access to Uptake

Posted on | July 14, 2014 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D

(This is the third and final part of a series examining the so-called “unmet need” for contraceptives in the developing world.  Part one can be found here and part two is here.)

As summarized in the previous installments, the “unmet need” concept has been used to frame overpopulation alarmism in the language of women’s rights.  Nonuse of contraceptives is redefined as an unmet need, which is then rephrased as unfulfilled demand or, most frequently, lack of access.  Access, in turn, is framed as a human rights issue.

Access: an advantageous misconstruction

“Access” is a very important concept for advocacy efforts:  if ensuring access to something is paramount, then nothing can be allowed to stand in the way, including the conscience of anyone who is (or even could be) involved in its provision.  This question was recently debated in the US Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby religious freedom case.  On its face, access seems inoffensive in that it implies no coercion to actually use the accessible thing.  But the flip side of the coin is mandated complicity in making the thing accessible.  Even if there are no users, there still must be providers.

Furthermore, when it comes to contraceptives and other controversial things, merely having providers is still not enough – access must not only exist, but it must be ubiquitous in order that it become accepted, and, ultimately, used.

The papers in the recent series on unmet need in Studies in Family Planning were first presented at a conference in Kenya titled “Is Access Enough? Understanding and Addressing Unmet Need for Family Planning.”  Clearly, the participants’ answer is that access is not enough – not when only 4-8% of “unmet need” is access-related.

Of course, as the authors of the papers are quick to point out, the definition of “unmet need” doesn’t actually involve access at all.  Bradley and Casterline write:

“Often asserted is that estimates of unmet need represent the proportion of women who want to practice contraception but are prevented from doing so by inadequate access to supplies and services. As we demonstrate below, however, the standard algorithm does not include any direct measures of the desire to practice contraception or any direct measures of access to contraception.”

In practice, this works out to false advertising covered by plausible deniability.  Advocacy groups parrot the meme that women a) want contraceptives and b) have no access to them, and donors send them money.  When skeptics point out that access is greater and demand is lower than the advocates will admit, the scholars behind the “unmet need” concept are able to stand at a safe distance and defend their much-misinterpreted creation by technicalities.

Selective hearing

If the “unmet need” definition doesn’t attempt to measure women’s desire for contraceptives or their access, what exactly does it measure? Simply put, it uses questions and answers from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to determine whether a women who is married (or in non-marital union), sexually active, and presumably fecund wants to have a(nother) child in the next two years, and if not, if she is using a modern contraceptive to avoid it.  If she is not, the survey inquires as to why not.

The exact formulation has undergone changes over the years, but one thing that has been eliminated is any question regarding the intensity of a woman’s feelings regarding the prospect of pregnancy.  Older versions of the survey asked how “happy” she would be if she became pregnant, or how much of a “problem” it would be, according to an intensity scale.  Removing these indicators means that the questions about whether the woman wants to have a child fall into the realm of “all other things being equal.”

However, all other things are not equal, as evidenced by the range of answers to the question about why women aren’t using contraceptives despite their alleged “unmet need.”  Some women and their partners express a religious or cultural opposition to the use of contraceptives – a rationale that will not be swayed by increased availability or improved formulations.  But the most frequently cited reason for nonuse of modern contraceptives was concern over side effects.

“Reluctance to try contraceptive methods because of fear of side effects or health risks can also be argued to be, in part, a consequence of insufficient or erroneous information,” write Cleland, Harbison and Shah.  They note that when barriers to access and lack of knowledge are addressed, concerns about adverse health effects persist – in regions with both high and low levels of contraceptive use.  They also admit that these concerns can’t be explained away in terms of rumors and hearsay: “in high-use countries these concerns are more likely to be based on personal experience than on perceptions.”

These are women who have already indicated via DHS questionnaires that they are not looking to have a child in the next two years, yet their concern about the side effects of contraception clearly outweigh their concerns about the impact of childbirth or parenting.  Given that these women with “unmet need” disproportionately live in countries with high levels of poverty and high maternal mortality rates by global standards, it is important to look at their answers in context.  They have weighed the costs and benefits of contraception against the very real possibility of a risky birth and another mouth to feed and chosen to forego contraception.  All things are not equal, and while they may not have had a great desire – much less a demand – to be pregnant at that moment, they clearly weren’t sufficiently opposed to the idea of pregnancy to avoid it by state-of-the art family planning.

Whose choice anyway?

To family planning advocates, access is just the beginning: acceptance and ultimately uptake are the end goal.  Like good salesmen, they believe in their product and want to encourage its consumption, but unlike most merchants, their primary funding isn’t dependent on convincing average people to pay for their offerings: that’s what philanthropists and wealthy donor states are for.  These funding streams cover not only the manufacture and distribution of contraceptive commodities, but also a wide variety of targeted marketing campaigns.  As John Bongaarts writes:

“With a given level of demand, an increase in [contraceptive] use produces a corresponding decline in unmet need. The evidence also shows, however, that programs can have a second effect by raising the demand for contraception. This effect is expected according to diffusion theory and may be attributed to program [information, education, and communication (IEC)] messages concerning the benefits of family planning and the diffusion of ideas about them.”

Further, Cleland, Harbison, and Shah add:

“[S]ocial opposition and, to a lesser extent, lack of knowledge are important barriers to contraceptive uptake in such settings. Skilled use of mass media, together with more localized approaches targeting influential groups—such as school teachers and traditional and religious leaders—are required to disseminate information concerning methods and defuse initial opposition.”

In other words, where religious objections exist, the most effective way to bypass it is to co-opt local religious leaders and recruit them to promote contraception.

Another paper in the series examines the use of natural methods of family planning and concludes that designers of family planning programs “may underestimate the dislike for modern methods, attributing the nonuse of contraceptive technologies to problems of access or lack of education, rather than a negative perception of modern medical contraception.”  The authors do suggest that family planning advocates might consider promoting some natural methods, but then double down on the need to reprogram women’s thinking:

“These results highlight the need for large-scale behavior-change communication to debunk misinformation concerning modern medical contraception, complemented by changes in family planning counseling so that women can be reassured on a one-to-one basis.”

But “large-scale behavior-change” is not a terribly appealing thing to offer to women in developing countries, particularly when it is targeted toward getting them to discard aspects of their religion or culture that don’t sit well with the population control crowd.

The architects of “unmet need” are masters of rebranding, though: Cleland, Harbison, and Shah refer to “the acceptability of contraception and associated services” – which almost certainly includes abortion – with the phrase “psychosocial access.”

You have to hand it to them for cleverness – it’s hard to envision a better way to characterize a woman’s moral objections to freely available contraceptives as a problem of lack of access.

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EMERGENCY: G77 Asks NGOs to Pressure Governments to Get SDG Result by Friday

Posted on | July 14, 2014 by Stefano Gennarini, J.D.

Representatives of the G77 and China held a meeting this afternoon with NGOs to invite them to lobby their governments and garner support to conclude the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) draft this week.  A working group of the General Assembly has been working on this draft for over a year, and Friday is the deadline for the Zero Draft of the SDGs. That document would be the basis for negotiating a new set of development goals for the period from 2015-2030.

The representatives of Bolivia and Brazil said that there are some wealthy countries that are trying to derail the process for the zero draft. Wealthy countries are questioning whether it is wise to even come out with a proposal for the SDGs by the end of this week. The purpose of the meeting was clearly to get NGOs to lobby in favor of an outcome this week. What was less clear is who would be responsible for derailing the negotiations this week.

The motivations behind the attempt to block an outcome this week may be many. While the representatives of Brazil and Bolivia suggested it could be because the present draft, with 17 goals and over 140 targets, is unwieldy and unmarketable. It must be more than just a disagreement about the number of goals if wealthy countries are willing to scrap almost 2 years of work on the draft of the SDGs. It may be because wealthy countries don’t feel that draft SDGs further their interests enough, and they see not way of rectifying that by the end of the week.

More likely, the real disagreement may be about “means of implementation”. The G77 is promising that there will be no agreement unless a formal outcome is secured by the end of the week. Wealthy countries are understandably less eager to commit to specific ways to finance the SDGs.

Needless to say, NGOs were as divided on the current draft as governments, and questioned the G77 reps as to why they should back their current effort. Several representatives of civil society were disappointed that their concerns did not appear in the draft.

If there is no agreement by the end of the week, it is likely that the secretariat will prepare a draft SDG project for the General Assembly to begin negotiations in the fall. This means that Jeoffrey Sachs will have his say once more in the U.N.’s development goals. Sachs is the Secretary General’s right hand man when it comes to development policies, and has already had his hand in several SDG proposals.

What this would mean with regards to language about sexual and reproductive health or reproductive rights, which are often euphemisms for abortion, remains to be seen. But all indications are that a negotiated document has a better chance of being sanitized. The current SDG draft is fairly sanitized, and there is a chance that it might limit itself to a singular reference to reproductive health, without mentioning reproductive rights or comprehensive sexual education—both are loaded terms. On the other hand, Sachs is a known advocate for “voluntary” population control and rapid fertility reduction (see proposal above). His latest proposal on the SDGs includes these terms. The Secretary General, and the U.N. secretariat under him, is strong a supporter of reproductive rights.

 

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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