Human Rights for All Ages
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There is little connection between anti-abortion activism and human rights in the media. This illustrates the chasm, or dichotomy, that exists between the world of "human rights" activism and activism on behalf of preborn humans. In order to see just what is the relationship between abortion and human rights in the media, I reviewed library books and news magazine and newspaper articles on the subject. There is virtually no correlation between abortion and human rights, at least as pertains to the anti-abortion standpoint.
I went to the local library to review human rights books to see what they had to say about abortion. Doing a keyword search on "human rights" retrieved 296 books from the library catalogue. I wished to just do a quick survey for purposes of this article, and that was too many. The books that dealt most basically with the subject seemed to be in Dewey Decimal classification 323, so I decided to limit my review to the books in that range, which yielded 21 books, 19 of which were on the library shelf at the time I visited the library. One of these books had no index. Of the 18 books that had indexes (see the table at the bottom of the page for a list of the books reviewed), 12 did not contain an entry for abortion in the index.
In two of the six books that contained an entry for abortion in the index, the entry was labelled "abortion rights", suggesting clearly the emphasis of these two books. One of these (Malcolm X, Black Liberation & The Road to Workers Power, by Jack Barnes), was most overtly pro-abortion, decrying the "reactionary" Hyde Amendment (that prohibits federal funding of abortion) and complaining about a speech by Barack Obama, where he referred to abortion as "a difficult issue", rather than as "a woman's right". The other (The Story of American Freedom, by Eric Foner) was less overt, but described the issue in terms of women's freedom, and described anti-abortion activity as stemming from the "religious Right" rather than human rights concerns, and described how "ironically" opponents of abortion adopted "the language of the rights revolution".
Of the remaining 4 books, one (It Is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government Is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom, by Andrew P. Napolitano) does at least suggest that abortion violates human rights by saying, "Perhaps the most extreme example of tyranny of the majority is abortion: unborn fetuses …[are] a minority which has been 'outvoted'". This comment, however, is contained only in the introduction to the book, the body of which completely ignores the subject. The remaining 3 books would seem to refrain from supporting either side, but frequently used terms such as "abortion rights" and "women's rights", while never using a term such as "unborn children's rights".
In summary, 2/3 of the books on human rights did not even mention the worst human rights violation of all, and the ones that did mention it did not do so in a way that reflected the horror of a human rights travesty which kills 27 times as many human beings as all other forms of violence combined. They tended to speak in terms of "women's rights" and "abortion rights" and ignore unborn children's rights. Of course, this was far too small of a sampling to represent a "scientific" study of the matter, but I suspect that this is at least a fair representation of what would be found if one were to do a more exhaustive study. Where they deal with the matter, they try to make out that abortion itself is a right that people should enjoy, and little is said about the rights of human beings in the womb. The frequent use of "women's rights" and "reproductive rights", without explaining clearly what it is that these "rights" are, and without a corresponding emphasis on "preborn rights" or "unborn children's rights" is an insidious attack on the rights of our most vulnerable members, but, more importantly to the purpose of this writing, illustrates the dichotomy that exists between human rights and unborn children's rights in the popular literature.
As an added note, I happened to have two books on hand on human rights from a local community college library. The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, by Micheline R. Ishay, had only one entry in the index regarding abortion, listed under "abortion rights". The page cited referred to "anachronistic" notions of "family values" leading to the "attack" on "women’s reproductive freedom". Reading through the book I found numerous references to "women’s rights". The only reference to the rights of the preborn was where the author deplored situations in which "the rights of the unborn can be elevated to the level of the rights of women". The author also deplored the fact that "Between 1990 and 2000 alone, an estimated an estimated 2 million children were killed in armed conflicts", but made no mention of the 40-50 million children that are killed worldwide every year while still in the womb.
World Report, 2010, by Human Rights Watch, did not have an index, but I looked through it to see what it had to say pertinent to abortion. "Women’s rights" and "reproductive rights" are mentioned throughout the book, but nowhere is to be found "unborn rights" or "rights of those in the womb". It decries strict abortion restrictions in countries such as Nicaragua, Chile and Peru. In regards to the U.S. it claims "The reproductive rights of all women remain under attack, with abortion providers burdened by unnecessary regulations, harassment, and physical violence," and uses the killing of abortionist George Tiller as an example, neglecting to mention how many young human beings had their human rights violated when Mr. Tiller killed them. These two books also demonstrate the pro-abortion emphasis that is prevalent in written literature, and hence the chasm that exists between the concept of human rights and that of protecting the rights of those human beings who are being killed in such huge numbers.
I searched for articles pertaining to abortion and to human rights in Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Report, using the Academic OneFile database, which contains citations from 1977 and forward (1923 and forward for Time magazine!). Newsweek had 355 articles about abortion and 189 articles about human rights during this period, but only two that showed up when "abortion" and "human rights" were combined in the same search. Time magazine had 272 articles about abortion and 112 articles about human rights, with only one article appearing when the terms were combined. U.S. News & World Report had 428 articles about abortion and 256 articles about human rights, with 6 articles being found with the combined search. Obviously these popular news magazines do not find much connection between the two subjects.
The Time magazine article, "Campaign insider. This abortion-rights leader wants women to support Edwards, not Clinton" (Nov. 5, 2007), did not mention human rights, but just spoke about Kate Michelman encouraging people to vote for John Edwards because he was better on "women's issues".
The two Newsweek articles also said little about human rights. "When Bishops Play Politics" (March 15, 2010) had only one statement in regards to human rights, that America's Catholic Bishops "see themselves as crusaders for human rights". The article goes on to discuss the Catholic church's stance on abortion with no further consideration of whether anyone's human rights are being affected. "Singing Praise To The Crazed: Administrations Change, But Advocates Keep Trying To Change The World" (Jan. 29, 2001) does not contain the term "human rights", but lauds the actions of groups such as NOW and NARAL for their work on "women's rights", stopping to point fingers at the "hypocrisy" of those fighting for preborn human rights by stating, "Everyone is against abortion until they need one."
Of the six U.S. News & World Report articles, two were not about abortion. One pertained to euthanasia (Terri Schiavo), and one was an article about Maryland Rep. Connie Morella, and merely mentioned in passing that she supports "abortion rights". Making Conservatives Antsy Over China: Principles and Pragmatism (June 30, 1997), talked only about forced abortions in China (and seemed to suggest that these are the only abortions that constitute a human rights problem). "The Theology of Abortion", as the title suggests, focused on religious thought, and used the term "human rights" only once in the entire article (although the term "abortion rights" occurred 5 times). "Cracking the U.N. Code" (Sept. 17, 2001) at least takes the U.N. to task for using obscure language such as "sexual rights", "reproductive health services" and "forced childbearing" to cover abortion, but still says nothing about abortion as a human rights violation. The sixth (and oldest) article, "Community and Personal Duty" (Jan. 28, 1991) I was unable to locate.
In summary, one would be hard-pressed to conclude from reading these three news magazines that there was any connection between human rights and abortion, and what little one received would tend to be of abortion-supporters as human rights advocates and those fighting abortion as human rights opponents. None of the news magazine articles that were classified as dealing with both abortion and human rights made any claims about abortion even potentially being a human rights violation.
A review of the largest U.S. newspapers yielded similar results. I did a search on September 30, 2013 on LexisNexis for news articles in the year 2013 (9 months worth) on "abortion" and "human rights". The New York Times had 36 articles. The Washington Post had 30. The Los Angeles Times had 11, but only went back as far as May 29. USA Today had 9, the San Jose Mercury News, 6, the Denver Post, 5, the New York Post, 4, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Daily News each had 3. The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Houston Chronicle were not covered by the index.
In spite of the search parameters, none of the New York Daily News articles contained the term "human rights", and only one of the Philadelphia Inquirer articles contained the phrase one time. (This particular article also used the term "abortion rights" four times and "women's rights" once, but no such term as "unborn rights", "fetus' rights", "preborn baby rights", etc.) Most of the New York Post articles were compilations of short "opinion" pieces. (It was unclear whether they were "letters to the editor" or written by the Post staff.) The only connection made between human rights and abortion was by one of the opinion pieces which did decry the media's lack of coverage of the Kermit Gosnell story. ("Why would the media not show interest in this tragic human rights story? Are they reluctant to report a story that might spark anti-abortion sentiment?") The only articles in the Denver Post that had any reference to human rights were letters to the editor.
Three of the San Jose Mercury News articles made no reference to human rights. One was about human rights issues in China, and just mentioned that China has had 336 million abortions. One entry was in the letters to the editor, but the references to abortion were in a separate letter from the references to human rights. The remaining article was a report to "assess abortion rights" (not "preborn human rights") around the world. It pointed out that "Latin America may be the worst place in the world for a woman wishing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy" (not, "may be the safest place in the world for an unborn baby") and "unsafe" abortions are "a major cause of maternal death" (no estimate of what place they take in terms of preborn deaths).
Other than forced abortions in China, none of the USA Today stories made any connection between abortion and human rights, except for one opinion piece by Kirsten Powers which lamented that the media was ignoring the Kermit Gosnell story, "a major human rights story if ever there was one."
Other than one letter to the editor pointing out that "abortion denies a fundamental right that all human beings possess: the right to life", the Los Angeles Times only had one article that tied abortion to human rights, and that was about women resorting to illegal abortions because of Myanmar's two-child policy among the Rohingya Muslims.
Eighteen of the 30 Washington Post articles did not mention human rights. Three of the articles talked only about forced abortions in China and North Korea, and one of the articles was not about abortion at all (it was about muzzling of dissent in Vietnam), but happened to use the word in one place. Another article only mentioned human rights in the context of the Human Rights Campaign (a group that promotes gay rights) and another only in the name of the Policy Council for Foreign Policy and Human Rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Two articles talked about the Pope's and the Catholic Church's position on abortion, with little connection to human rights. In another article the International Women's Health Coalition talked about ending violence against women by making sure that women who have been raped "can get critical care services, like emergency contraception and safe abortion". There were two articles that made the connection between abortion and human rights, one editorial which stated that the reason pro-lifers continue on is "because we're fighting for human rights" and another article quoting Gov. Rick Perry as stating, "Some have tried to make this a partisan issue. It is not. It is a human rights issue…" The remaining article, an opinion article, at least recognized that "Anti-abortion folks see it as a human-rights issue."
Seventeen of the 36 New York Times articles did not mention human rights, although they used terms such as "abortion rights" and "women's rights", and even, in one case, "abortion rights defender". Another one only mentioned human rights as part of the name of the "European Court of Human Rights", and two others only in the name "Human Rights Campaign". Five of the remaining articles only talk about abortion in the context of forced abortions in China and North Korea. Two other articles did not discuss abortion, but only mentioned the word in passing. Of the remaining 9 articles that discussed both human rights and abortion, other than forced abortions, four were about a Salvadoran woman who supposedly needed an abortion because her life was in danger. (The June 4 article reported that the baby was delivered by cesarean section.) Two of these only referred to human rights as part of the name "Inter-American Court of Human Rights", which was pressuring El Salvadoran authorities to allow the abortion. Another stated that U.N. human rights experts asked El Salvador to allow the abortion, and the other was a letter to the editor decrying the violation of the woman's human rights because she had not been allowed to have the abortion. One article was about violence against women and reported that "conservative hard-liners…objected to reference to abortion rights." An article about the Global Women's Conference stated, "Yes, there's plenty of sexual violence and slavery, human trafficking and other crimes against women and girls in Latin America, and reproductive rights are negligible. Abortion is illegal in most countries," ranking prohibition of abortion right up there with these crimes. Another article talked about Mr. Chen, the Chinese human-rights activist who spoke out about coerced abortions, among other violations, being "besieged by human rights activists, opponents of abortion and an array of politicians," seeming to make a clear distinction between human rights and abortion activists. One article did quote Jeanne Monahan of the March for Life as stating, "We see abortion as the human rights issue of today," and, finally, one letter to the editor claimed that there is "no more pressing human rights issue" than abortion.
This review of the nation's top newspapers reveals that there is extremely little connection made between human rights and the killing of preborn human beings by abortion. Indeed, in the few articles where abortion was linked to human rights, it was more common to refer to the lack of a "right" to have an abortion as being the human rights violation.
In summary, if this study is representative, there is virtually no mention of abortion as a human rights abuse in books, magazines and newspapers in our society. What little connection to human rights is made tends to be in favor of those who support "women's rights" or "abortion rights", suggesting to the readers that these are somehow linked to human rights.
If the writers of these books and articles were identifying themselves as pro-abortion, that would be one thing, but that is not the way they are identified. We expect groups such as NARAL and NOW to promote "abortion rights". But these writers are "neutral" journalists or authors who are (supposedly) concerned for human rights. Hence, the insidiousness and cruel irony of what is taking place. Who would be against human rights? Everyone wants human rights, right? When those who are "neutral" or are identified as human rights advocates are calling for "reproductive rights", people think that this is the "human rights" thing to do! We have to challenge this. It is we who are fighting for the lives of the children who are the human rights advocates, not those who are advocating for the right to kill them. We have to stand up and make the world see that it is the preborn children's rights that are human rights -- not the "rights" of those who wish to kill them.
Human Rights Books reviewed at Eugene Public Library in Dewey Decimal 323 classification
Abortion not contained in index:
|The international human rights movement : a history||Aryeh Neier|
|Murder in the high Himalaya : loyalty, tragedy, and escape from Tibet||Jonathan Green|
|Diplomacy of conscience : Amnesty International and changing human rights norms||Ann Marie Clark|
|Globalization and human rights||various authors|
|Inventing human rights : a history||Lynn Hunt|
|From civil rights to human rights : Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice||Thomas F. Jackson|
|The professor and the pupil : the politics of W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson||Murali Balaji|
|Beyond chutzpah : on the misuse of anti-semitism and the abuse of history||Norman G. Finkelstein|
|The shadows of youth : the remarkable journey of the civil rights generation||Andrew B. Lewis|
|Toward the light of liberty : the struggles for freedom and rights that made the modern Western world||A.C. Grayling|
|Freedom next time : resisting the empire||John Pilger|
|Authentic patriotism : restoring America's founding ideals through selfless action||Stephen P. Kiernan|
Abortion contained in index:
|It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong : the case for personal freedom||Andrew P. Napolitano|
|The human rights revolution : an international history||various authors|
|Rights from wrongs : a secular theory of the origins of rights||Alan M. Dershowitz|
|And justice for all : the United States Commission on Civil Rights and the continuing struggle for freedom in America||Mary Frances Berry|
|Malcolm X, Black liberation & the road to workers power||Jack Barnes|
|The story of American freedom||Eric Foner|
"[I]t seems to me as clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime." -Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections
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Copyright 2013, Human Rights for All Ages Campaign