Seeing Things: In That Grand UN Style

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as People’s Exhibit A, I submit a proposal by the United Nations that may, among other things, make “enforced pregnancy” an international crime. Never heard of it? Let me explain.

In the grand fashion of recent UN initiatives, a proposed treaty will establish an International Criminal Court (ICC) so that the community of nations may, Nuremberg-style, apprehend and try individuals, not just countries, for various still-to-be-determined infractions. Some of the suggested categories, such as war crimes, are unexceptionable. But others—”enforced pregnancy,” for example—bode ill for innocents in the womb and others who may come within the reach of a judicial institution with ill-defined powers and no real oversight. It may all fall apart, but the mere fact that enforced pregnancy is on the agenda at this late stage in the process is ominous. Even though basic issues like jurisdiction remain unsettled, the ICC will probably be approved at an international conference in Rome a few weeks before this column appears.

Hadley Arkes and I recently spoke to a gathering of about 100 representatives of missions and other organizations in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium at UN headquarters in New York. After a run through the weightier matters of the natural law, we warned about the direction the ICC was going—a rare occurrence on UN premises. But the wheels grind on.

To raise fears about potential UN tyranny in America today places you, in many minds, alongside the fanatics worrying that black helicopters will invade the Midwest and that road signs have been computer coded so UN troops may move around the countryside. In polite opinion, the UN is only a weak and bloated bureaucracy, useful at times for peace keeping or an international gabfest on population or environment. But just because the nuts have imagined a UN bogeyman in one area does not mean that there are not authentic worries in others. The international agreements from Cairo, Beijing, and Kyoto are proof of that.

At those large international conferences phrases like “reproductive health” and “gender” were planted in official documents, waiting to sprout in other contexts when the time is right. So too enforced pregnancy has the potential to create indirectly what has been rejected when proposed directly: an international right to abortion.

How would this come about? Feminists have introduced the concept of enforced abortion as a possible area of court jurisdiction, in a kind of sub-category of war crimes. In the Balkans, some women are abducted, raped, and forced to bear children, who are then taken away from them and raised in a different religion. Anyone not a moral monster will agree this whole business is an outrage that must be stopped and its perpetrators severely punished.

But there may be further uses for the phrase. It might migrate, as other notions have over the years, to, for example, the World Health Organization, whose new head is none other than Gro Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and major international player on women’s and population issues. Even if jurisdiction over enforced pregnancy were, at the end of the day, carefully written (a big if), the door would be open to future developments and wider applications. Let’s say a woman in Ireland or, perhaps, Iowa has no abortion services available nearby, or a country outlaws, as several still do, abortion altogether. This might be construed by some among the international elite as “sexual slavery.” (Some of our more imaginative Supreme Court justices already finds the same among us, in violation of the 13th Amendment.) Who knows? Ted Turner may want, through the largesse he is bestowing on the United Nations and various private groups, to help extend international justice to women who are not in war situations.

To its credit, the Clinton administration has tried to slow this potential disaster until there is a full debate on the scope of the court’s jurisdiction. Perhaps Clinton sees real dangers, or perhaps he blanches that an ill-defined international body can bring lawsuits against individuals, including heads of state. The administration already has enough domestic lawsuits to keep it busy.

But issues like these are being referred all the time to international institutions even less responsive to popular sensibilities than national governments. If we do not wake up to the threats slowly spreading in that environment, we may before long discover that the black helicopters can stay home. The international bureaucrats will have gotten much of what they want through refined legal means.


  • Robert Royal

    Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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