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What is Riding on Ratification of the Disabilities Treaty

It looks like Senate ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will come up for a vote tomorrow. The Senate already passed the gold-standard Americans with Disabilities in 1990 so this measure will not change much in the USA.  It would, however, give the USA stronger standing in pressing other countries to ensure that they eliminate discriminatory practices against people with disabilities.

That would certainly be a boon to people with sensory, physical or intellectual impairments around the world. But from the standpoint of American politics, there is much more riding on this passage: If the Senate ratifies this treaty with the required two thirds majority, it would mean that major international treaties could avoid the pitfalls of domestic abortion politics.

Let me explain:

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has nothing to do with abortion, but objections to ratification of the Disabilities Treaty in the US Senate have focused on the provisions of the treaty that call for equal access to reproductive health care for people with disabilities.  Some senators have equated “reproductive heath” and “family planning” with abortion, and have couched their objections to the treaty as such. This is not necessarily a standard interpretation even among pro-life members of congress, but it only takes 36 senators to scuttle the treaty.

On the other hand, if this treaty is ratified it means that enough Senators accept that reproductive health is not code word for abortion. That would be a big step forward for global reproductive health issues — like funding the UN Population Fund —  that periodically make their way through Congress. (There are already statutes prohibiting American aid from supporting abortion overseas, but support for international family planning can still be a hot button issue).

Further, ratification of the Disabilities Treaty would provide momentum for two other important international treaties: The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (better known as CEDAW).  Religious conservatives make up the bulk of the opposition to CEDAW and Rights of the Child. If just a small number of pro-life senators can overcome the hangup over the abortion question in the Disabilities Treaty, that would brighten the prospects that these other two international human rights treaties may someday soon become ratified by the US Senate.

The disability treaty should be ratified on its own merits–and there is a great deal riding on this vote tomorrow for those of us who believe that American ascession to these kinds of treaties is a boon for human rights around the world.


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