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What Are the "San Jose Articles"? Don't Be Fooled By the Conservative Global Elites' Latest Ploy to Attack Science, Women, and the United Nations

The sum of nine articles are meant to etch away at important gains made by the global reproductive rights community, from liberalizing abortion laws inNepal to Colombia and Mexico.

They say timing is everything. That’s  almost certainly what an anti-choice global elite had in mind when they launched the  “San Jose Articles”  last week at the United Nations. Comprised of nine tenets that mimic global human rights agreement language, the articles are an attempt to dismantle safe abortion access, and undermine the authority of the United Nations and other governing bodies to ensure the health and rights of women worldwide.

The articles were released in time with a  report launched Monday by the UN Special Rapporteur  Anand Grover  on the “Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health” (isn’t that nice of him?). In the report, Grover considers “the interaction between criminal laws and  other legal restrictions relating to sexual and reproductive health.” He finds that, in particular, criminalization and legal restriction of abortion – worldwide – are detrimental to the rights, health, and happiness of individuals. In sum,  criminalization of abortion doesn’t work .

If you’re a supporter of reproductive rights, this report qualifies as a slam dunk. Currently, there are 68 countries in the world where  abortion is prohibited almost entirely. But if you’re an anti-choice advocate, this news comes crashing down and you need to think quick. Enter the San Jose Articles.

The nine articles take aim at three key foci of power: science, the United Nations, and global reproductive rights groups. Article 1 puts science on the chopping block: “As a matter of scientific fact a new human life begins at conception.” Articles 5 and 9 question the UN’s authority to monitor and govern: “No United Nations treaty can accurately be cited as establishing or recognizing a right to abortion… UN agencies and officers, regional and national courts, and others should desist from implicit or explicit assertions of a right to abortion based upon international law.”

The sum of nine articles are meant to etch away at important gains made by the global reproductive rights community, from liberalizing abortion laws in Nepal to Colombia and Mexico.  Global Rights Watch, a pro-choice watchdog coalition,  circulated an alert  last week warning that the articles “could be used to confuse negotiations and public discourse on human rights, especially at the UN and in other international and national forums.” The group said that the articles were being launched in cities across the US and Europe, and copies were being sent to policymakers worldwide.

The articles point out that there is technically no “right to abortion” in any current global human rights agreement. And they’re right. But this is beside the point. Reproductive rights advocates have used established human rights frameworks – which include the right to health – skillfully and successfully over the past decades to establish precedence for access to safe and legal abortion. There is nothing subversive or wrong about this – it’s called advocacy. “States’ failures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion violates human rights established in international law, including the right to health, to reproductive health, and the right to decide the number and spacing of children as well as principles of non-discrimination,” said Global Rights Watch.  

And with the political lightening storm that the abortion issues touches off, how  could there realistically be a codified right to abortion? The UN has long been caught between a rock and a hard place on this issue –  too conservative for most reproductive rights advocates  and yet still far too liberal for anti-choice proponents. 

The articles’ signatories are perhaps more fascinating than the articles themselves – an impressive and sweeping group of individuals from around the world, with titles like “ Supreme Knight ,” “Lord,” and “Honorable,” not to mention a number of of MDs and PhDs. Yet even cursory research into these individuals reveals a strong bias toward religious ideology over scientific and medical facts, and reminds us that, with enough hard work, just about anyone can get a fancy degree.

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