Should We Care that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is Coming Back to the U.S. Senate?
Last December, the U.S. Senate failed to give consent to U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Since the election hasn’t really changed the composition of the Senate all that much, I kind of thought this treaty was dead, or at least dormant, for a while here in the U.S. Maybe not!
Groups opposed to US ratification of the CRPD are saying that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on June 4 to discuss ratification of the treaty. And the critics are ready. In the latest critique, Iain Murray and Geoffrey McClatchey argue that the CRPD really does go beyond what U.S. law requires under the American with Disabilities Act by suggesting all entities must give all individuals accommodations, whereas the ADA has a number of important exemptions. I am not sure about this, and it seems like a fairly technical matter that could be interpreted narrowly or broadly. Since the CRPD would be non-self-executing, I am not sure this would be a huge problem for Congress, which could easily say that the ADA is enough to comply with the CRPD.
More problematically, the senators who offered their opposition last summer in the SFRC committee hearings are deeply troubled by the refusal of the Obama Administration to clarify that the language requiring equal treatment in the provision of “health care” for “sexual and reproductive health” in the CRPD’s Article 25 does not include abortion services. Again, I think the practical impact is fairly small, but I don’t fault senators who are pledged to oppose expansion of abortion services to be worried about this. Senator Marco Rubio’s proposed “declaration” to attach to advice and consent would seem to solve this.
The United States understands that the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” in Article 25(a) of the Convention does not include abortion, and its use in that Article does not create any abortion rights, cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion, and in no way suggests that abortion should be promoted as a method of family planning.
I don’t see this is a big deal, but if it would remove one obstacle to ratification and get the necessary votes, I don’t see why CRPD proponents wouldn’t just agree to take this language on.
Overall, I do think critics of the CRPD are overstating the likelihood that the treaty will have a meaningful impact on U.S. law and policy. There could be an impact, but the institutional protection is that any changes required by the CRPD will have to clear Congress in the form of another statute. This is a non-trivial institutional protection. Sure, the Disabilities Committee will probably crank out some interpretations of the CRPD that the U.S. Congress will disagree with, but the chances of those interpretations seriously affecting U.S. law seem fairly small.
On the flip side, I also think the proponents of the CRPD are exaggerating its benefits. It may have some small impact on the practice of foreign countries, but there is little evidence it would lead to wholesale changes in other countries either.
As I have argued before, the potential problems in this treaty are just not serious enough for me to get worked up about it. On the other hand, the benefits are not exactly large enough to get excited about either. Still, the upcoming battle for the CRPD is a proxy for the entire U.S. attitude toward the various U.N. human rights treaties. So it matters, even if this particular treaty is not a big deal.