UN Disability Treaty Fails in Senate Because of “Pro-Life” Senators

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was put up for a vote in the U.S. Senate today, and despite being largely uncontroversial, it failed. Why? Pro-lifers.

And, of course, the usual right-wing suspects who don’t understand how treaties and international law work. The convention lists, among many others, reproductive rights for people with disabilities, which pro-lifers obviously take issue with. But as far as I can tell from this press conference, they’re even more concerned with the fact that the treaty would apply the “best interests of the child” standard, which pro-lifers say impedes “family sovereignty.” Rick Santorum says he finds it “troubling” that the convention has a special section for children with disabilities. Here’s that section, Article 7, in full:

1. States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children.

2. In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

3. States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have the right to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, their views being given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity, on an equal basis with other children, and to be provided with disability and age-appropriate assistance to realize that right.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the treaty wouldn’t require states or the federal government to pass laws in accordance with the treaty. And U.S. law already uses the “best interest of the child” standard in a variety of legal situations, most commonly in custody cases. But what pro-lifers are essentially saying is that parents and care-takers should be able to do whatever they want, and focusing on the interests of children is some sort of violation. They’re particularly concerned about home-schooling, because they recognize that kids with disabilities might actually need specialized education that many home-schooling parents are not equipped to give. These parents may nonetheless refuse to enroll their children in special education programs because of whatever ideological opposition to public or secular education, doing the children a serious disservice and impeding their development.

We know that people with disabilities are abused and mistreated at much higher rates than the general population. We know that children with disabilities are very vulnerable to abuse, including from their parents. We know that the desires of parents and care-takers are often privileged over the needs of children with disabilities.

That’s the status quo that “pro-lifers” — those people who care about babies oh so much — are trying to maintain.

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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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17 Responses

  1. tomek
    tomek December 4, 2012 at 4:30 pm |

    i think conversetive parent tend to view child like thing they can make do whichever. they like being not told how best to do with child, even when science show how best to with child in school. this is problem for my mother, whom is teacher of school, parent constradict truth and confuse child.

  2. msgd
    msgd December 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm |

    First off, that conference has nothing to do with pro-life. It has to do with parents having the autonomy to decide what is best for their own children with disabilities. That is its own smoke-screen, since, as you pointed out, the treaty doesn’t specifically do anything that the ADA doesn’t already do. But calling that a “pro-life” issue is still a stretch.

    Secondly, the main argument against this treaty, and the main reason that conservatives are opposing it, is because it superfluously duplicates what the ADA already does in the U.S. while creating an extra administrative and legal burden on the U.S. to comply with and report to the U.N. about our compliance with it.

    Regardless of whether you agree with the treaty or not, its failure in the House is not because of abortion. It’s probably all “pro-life” senators since they are obviously all the conservative senators and vice versa, but their reason for voting against this treaty is not that issue.

    1. Dense Winters
      Dense Winters December 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm |

      Senator Rubio is quoted as saying he would not vote for it because it would somehow lead to more abortions. U.S. sovereignty and anti-abortion are defiantly stated reasons some conservatives refused to vote in favor of ratification.

  3. konkonsn
    konkonsn December 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |

    Is there a website to see which Senator voted which way? I feel silly for not knowing this information already, but I don’t.

    1. Rob F
      Rob F December 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm |

      Here, but I don’t know how long the link will last.

      All Democrats and both independents supported ratification, as did the following Republicans: Ayotte, Barrasso, Brown, Collins, Lugar, McCain, Murkowski, and Snowe. Kirk abstained, and the other Republicans rejected ratification.

      1. konkonsn
        konkonsn December 4, 2012 at 7:17 pm |

        Thanks! It’s…interesting to see how, even in the same state, it depends completely on whether the senator is R or D.

        I also have a question about this:

        They’re particularly concerned about home-schooling, because they recognize that kids with disabilities might actually need specialized education that many home-schooling parents are not equipped to give. These parents may nonetheless refuse to enroll their children in special education programs because of whatever ideological opposition to public or secular education, doing the children a serious disservice and impeding their development.

        While I agree that what Jill is talking about here is wrong, I wonder if requirements of parents for special education programs could be used to claim child abuse against low income families? I don’t know what government assistance families who have children with special needs get if they enroll their children in public education. And what about families that want to home school because they feel the public school environment is harmful or not the best environment for a child with disabilities needs?

        I do think ratifying this agreement is better than not, I’m just curious about the way it could be used to harm people who need protection (like how hate crime laws have often been turned against those they were supposed to help).

        1. Rob F
          Rob F December 4, 2012 at 9:14 pm |

          I’m not an expert on this topic, but the impression I get (mostly from anecdotal reports) is that child protective services in the US are often classist and give a benefit of the doubt to better-off WASPs and deny it to everyone else. The obvious (but difficult) solution is to reform CPS.

          “And what about families that want to home school because they feel the public school environment is harmful or not the best environment for a child with disabilities needs?”

          I think that Drahill below put it well: Special education is a lottery; in some places it’s fantastic while in others it’s complete rubbish.

  4. Evening…White Power, Church Guns, FU Disabled, Ted Nugent Rant…Reads « Sky Dancing

    [...] from Jill, another story via Feminist: UN Disability Treaty Fails in Senate Because of “Pro-Life” Senators The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was put up for a vote in the U.S. [...]

  5. Rob F
    Rob F December 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm |

    Parents are already given too much leeway to “decide what’s best”. We shouldn’t let them opt out of vaccinations for nonmedical reasons, or to refuse blood transfusions for their children if their kids would die without them. And likewise, most states disturbingly allow opt-outs from newborn screening (the heel prick to test for sickle-cell disease and inborn errors of metabolism). Again, since not finding those early has serious consequences, exemptions and opt-outs should not be allowed.

  6. Drahill
    Drahill December 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm |

    I’m probably more sympathetic to the home-schooling argument than most people here, because my parents had 3 kids with special needs and eventually had to, at some point, homeschool each of them because, well, we lived in a state with a piss poor special education system. Special education is a crapshoot in this country – some places are awesome, some are crappy, and some are downright abusive.

    However, I think any panic over this treaty is misplaced. The treaty would simply place the best interests of the child over the desires of the parents. There would be cases in which the homeschooling would probably be upheld. Its shooting down a decent treaty based on a reactionary reading.

    And Rick Santorum celebrating on Twitter turns my stomach – especially given that he has a disabled daughter who would have benefitted under the treaty. I can’t even get angry about that, it’s just sad.

  7. Shannon Drury
    Shannon Drury December 5, 2012 at 9:32 am |

    As a parent of a kid in the public special ed system myself, I am well aware of its flaws (classism is indeed a huge problem), but Santorum just threw out his own baby with the bathwater. Sad.

  8. Scott Cunningham
    Scott Cunningham December 5, 2012 at 11:56 am |

    Once again, the “Pro-Life” theme song is Hell Is For Children.

  9. mustard seed
    mustard seed December 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm |

    so unfuriating. my heart hurts.

  10. Michelle
    Michelle December 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm |

    I vote pro-lifers off the island.

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