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U.N. discrimination treaty passes Senate panel; foes see dire impact

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved an international treaty that critics charge could remove all restrictions on abortion, open the family and church to invasive scrutiny and undercut the authority of federal and state governments.

The committee voted 12-7 in favor of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) July 30. Two Republicans, Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, joined all 10 Democrats in support of the controversial treaty.

The full Senate may vote on the treaty as early as September. A two-thirds majority is required for confirmation of CEDAW, which was adopted by the U.N. in 1979. President Carter signed the treaty in 1980. Since then, it has been languishing in the Senate, while 170 countries have approved it.

They support civil rights for women but want the Senate to reject CEDAW, opponents said. Some also have urged President Bush to revoke the White House’s approval of the treaty.

Leaders of 10 pro-family organizations made that request of Bush in a July 29 letter. Among them was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

CEDAW “is ideological toxic waste and should be buried in a lead-lined landfill,” Land said after the committee vote. “Adoption of this treaty by our government would be a giant leap down the road away from government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ to government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats.

“Seldom has a piece of legislation been designed to be more devastating to the American people’s sovereignty over their own affairs than this infamous relic of 1970s radically rabid feminism. This treaty would give unelected, international bureaucrats at the United Nations authority to attempt to contravene American laws and decisions by the United States Supreme Court,” Land said.

Among actions critics cite as evidence CEDAW will threaten American self-government, as well as strike down abortion limits and intrude on the home and church, are:

— The U.N. CEDAW compliance committee’s censure of Croatia for allowing some hospitals to refrain from performing abortions because of the conscientious objections of doctors.

— The same committee’s advocacy of legalized prostitution in China.

— The committee’s criticism of the reintroduction of Mother’s Day in Belarus because it reinforces sexual stereotypes.

— The European Parliament’s citation of CEDAW as the basis of its assertion there is an “international legal framework” for all countries to recognize abortion as a “fundamental right”; the body depended on CEDAW in voting to call on European Union members such as Ireland, Spain and Portugal to rescind all restrictions on abortion.

CEDAW also could make it illegal for a country to prohibit women from combat assignments, Land said, since the treaty requires countries to “ensure women … the right to … perform all public functions at all levels of government.”

Land also said, “It is certainly possible that this treaty could be used by U.N. bureaucrats to attempt to foist their radical feminism even on the internal affairs of churches of the United States. Article Two of CEDAW declares ‘States Parties. … take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise.’ I have no doubt that many U.N. bureaucrats and their American aiders and abettors will argue that churches fit this definition and would seek to use the U.N. to harass and to sue churches that fail to conform to their feminist ideology.”

Sens. Joseph Biden, D.-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., denied American sovereignty would be affected. “Ratification of the treaty would not impose a single new requirement in our laws — because our Constitution and gender discrimination laws already comply with the treaty requirements,” they wrote in an opinion column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Charges that CEDAW is a promotion of unlimited abortion rights have “no basis in fact,” Biden and Boxer said.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R.-N.C., the ranking Foreign Relations member, and the National Right to Life Committee refuted that declaration.

In a July 29 letter to fellow committee member Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., Helms said his proposal to protect against abortion rights in a 1994 resolution concerning CEDAW was watered down beyond effectiveness. “[T]here can be no doubt that CEDAW supporters are attempting to use this treaty to advance a radical abortion agenda,” he wrote.

While the resolution of CEDAW ratification includes an “understanding” saying that the treaty will not establish a right to abortion, it would not protect pro-life decisions by governments in the United States, said NRLC’s Douglas Johnson in a July 29 letter to senators.

The treaty “could impose an international obligation on the federal and state governments to provide public funding for abortion, to refrain from adopting or enforcing restrictions on partial-birth abortions, to refrain from adopting or enforcing laws to protect parental rights with respect to their minor daughters, and otherwise to condemn any limitations on abortion,” Johnson wrote.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action and the National Organization for Women are among the organizations that have endorsed CEDAW.

In addition to Land, other signers of the letter to the president requesting he take action against CEDAW were Michael Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association; Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America; Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum; Tom Minnery, vice president of Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon, chairman of American Family Association; and Roberta Combs, president of Christian Coalition of America. The effort was organized by HSLDA.