UN Committee Against Torture Questions Holy See on Efforts to Curtail Women’s Health Care Globally
(PRESS RELEASE) Representatives of the Holy See were asked by a United Nations Committee yesterday to answer for its interference with women’s access to reproductive health care across the globe leading to cruel and degrading treatment.
Over the last two days, the UN Committee against Torture reviewed the Holy See on its record related to torture and human rights violations—from clerical sexual abuse to violations of women’s reproductive rights—as the Holy See committed to ensure that all people are free from torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by ratifying the UN Convention against Torture.
The Committee, which will issue findings for its review of the Holy See later this month, has consistently questioned states about reproductive rights as part of its mandate to monitor this commitment. The Center for Reproductive Rights submitted a shadow letter to the Committee about how the Holy See’s efforts against abortion and contraception access has caused women and girls severe pain and suffering in countries across the world.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Decisions about women’s health should be made between women and their doctors. The Holy See should have no place in what health services, including reproductive health services, women and girls can receive.
“Forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term—especially when she is a rape survivor or her life and health is at risk—is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Eliminating options by which women can control their lives and keep their families healthy is an egregious violation of their fundamental human rights.
“The United Nations Committee against Torture must be resolute and make clear that no one can stand between a woman and her health, dignity, and human rights. The Vatican must be held accountable for these injustices.”
The Holy See’s canon law bans abortion in all circumstances, including when a woman’s life or health are at risk or when she is the victim of rape.
During the UN Committee review earlier this week, Holy See representative Cardinal Silvano Tomasi claimed that “[b]y no means does the Holy See enforce or impose this code on any individual,” but the evidence proves otherwise. Indeed, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee Felice Gaer noted that Holy See officials had “called for the blanket criminalization of abortion by other governments….I agree that that this policy should not be imposed on others. How do you respond to the argument that that is exactly what’s going on?”
In 2009, Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho and Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re publicly condemned the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had become pregnant following years of sexual abuse, because they decided to perform an abortion to save her life. UN Committee member George Tugushi questioned the Holy See about this and similar cases, noting the humiliation of women the Holy See inflicts and finding that “[w]hen [women and girls] are subjected to additional pressure when they have undergone such a trauma, it should be considered ill-treatment.”
Cardinal Tomasi disavowed responsibility for this and another similar case in Nicaragua but stated that “these are two exceptional cases.” However, as the Center for Reproductive Rights highlighted in its submission to the UN Committee, there have been several other cases where Vatican officials have interfered in women’s reproductive health, including a 2013 case where Holy See officials persuaded the government of El Salvador to deny access to abortion for a pregnant woman named Beatriz whose life was at risk because of lupus and kidney failure. Holy See officials have also interfered with policymaking in other states surrounding reproductive rights, including the Philippines, Peru, Nicaragua, the United States, and many others.