Last December, former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole took to the Senate floor in a wheelchair to urge his former colleagues to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), a United Nations treaty that would encourage countries around the world to emulate the United States’ protections for the rights of the disabled.
The treaty fell six votes short of the 2/3 majority it needed for passage, thanks to an intense lobbying effort by Religious Right groups that warned – against all evidence – that the treaty would threaten U.S. sovereignty, impede the rights of homeschoolers, expand abortion rights and allow the UN to seize children with glasses from their families.
Now, the fight is set to start over again. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a hearing on the treaty for tomorrow, and once again the extremist right is gearing up to defeat it by spreading myths about CRPD’s true purpose and effects.
The first sign of what is to come is that Susan Yoshihara of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) has been called as a witness for Tuesday’s hearing. C-FAM is a far-right group dedicated to defeating gay rights and reproductive health measures at the UN. Most recently, the group has made headlines for vocally defending Russia’s ban on gay-rights speech , a law that C-FAM’s president Austin Ruse said “most of the people in the United States” would agree with. C-FAM opposes UN efforts to prevent violence against LGBT people, an effort for which it has found its strongest allies in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
C-FAM also stands against any UN public health initiatives that stray from an abstinence-only ideology. The group criticized UN HIV/AIDS guidelines that called for decriminalizing adultery, homosexuality and extramarital sex, claiming that decriminalization “would fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS.” The group also opposes efforts to combat HIV/AIDS through sex education and condom distribution, which it claims are merely ruses to “protect the sexual revolution.”
C-FAM’s opposition to the CRPD has centered on the myth that the treaty would expand abortion rights – a myth that even the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee has debunked and which Sen. John McCain called just plain “wrong.”
As the Senate considered the CRPD last year, Yoshihara warned that the treaty included protections for “sexual and reproductive health,” which she said meant the treaty would be “used to advance a right to abortion.” After the treaty fell short in the Senate, Yoshihara declared that “cooler heads prevailed,” fretting that “the text could be interpreted as including a right to abortion.”
Also gearing up to fight the CRPD is the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is renewing its warnings that the treaty, along with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, would imperil homeschooling families in the United States, “override existing state laws” and “surrender our nation’s sovereignty to unelected bureaucrats.” An indication of HSLDA’s mode of operation is that the group’s founder Michael Farris has written a novel set in a future in which the United States has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, allowing the UN to snatch children from American homeschooling parents .
It is Farris who warned last year that the treaty would allow the UN to come in and take control of children who wear glasses or have ADHD. In an interview with the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, Farris claimed that the treaty could even empower doctors to kill disabled children. He even warned that the treaty would make the United States “an official socialist nation.”
Thanks in large parts to Farris’ efforts, rumors claims that the United States’ signing of the CRPD would endanger homeschooling became so pervasive that Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware was forced to confirm with the Department of Justice that “ratification of this treaty will not do anything to change existing American law, rules or enforcement on homeschooling” and that the treaty would not “ erode one iota of American sovereignty.”
HSLDA and Farris found a powerful ally in former senator and failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who warned that the treaty would lead to the deaths of children with disabilities like his daughter Bella.
Under Farris and Santorum’s leadership, the Religious Right rallied to oppose the CRPD last year. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins warned – with absolutely no basis – that under the treaty, “the global community could force America to sanction sterilization or abortion for the disabled–at taxpayer expense.” Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum included the treaty vote on its “bills to watch” list, and Schlafly warned that CRPD – and UN treaties as a whole – “override national sovereignty in pursuit of social engineering, feminist ideology, or merely busybody interference in a country’s internal affairs.”Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel, Eagle Forum and the American Family Association also joined the effort against ratification.
While right-wing groups circulate irresponsible rumors about imaginary impacts of the CRPD, international disability rights advocates are left without an important tool for their work – the United States’ approval of international standards based on US law. The Senate now has a second chance to listen to common-sense voices of support for the treaty – including leading disability rights, civil rights and business groups – and reject the unhinged rhetoric that brought down the treaty last year.