Senators voted 61-38 Tuesday (Dec. 4) for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) but failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in the Senate to approve a treaty. The CRPD's foes had expressed hope they had the votes to prevent ratification, but they acknowledged senators were under intense pressure to support the controversial treaty.
The treaty's opponents applauded its failure.
"I'm delighted that this ignominious treaty has been sent to the ash heap of history where it belongs and that even a lame-duck Senate understood the intrusions upon American sovereignty that were unacceptable," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), described the treaty's defeat in an email to supporters as "a great victory for parental rights, homeschool freedom, and children with special needs."
Senate ratification would have meant the treaty would become law under the U.S. Constitution, supersede state laws and be considered binding in the courts, HSLDA warned before the vote.
HSLDA, which led opposition to the treaty, listed the following among its concerns with the treaty in a recent letter to senators endorsed by Land and 39 other pro-family and conservative leaders:
-- An article in the treaty making the "best interests of the child" a "primary consideration" could usurp the "traditional fundamental right of parents to direct the education and upbringing" of a special needs child.
-- A 1989 New Zealand law that is considered to comply with the CRPD permits the secretary of Education to require a disabled child to attend a government-operated school if he thinks it best for the student, implying the same thing could happen in the United States.
-- The U.S. could surrender its sovereignty to a committee - the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - established by the treaty.
The treaty's inclusion of the term "reproductive health" -- sometimes a euphemism for "abortion rights" -- drew concern as well. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee failed to allay those concerns when it defeated an amendment that sought to clarify "reproductive health" does not include abortion.
Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., who promoted the treaty as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, rejected the charges leveled by its foes. He denied the CRPD would either usurp American law or change abortion policy. Kerry also said the committee established by the treaty has "very, very limited powers."
The treaty's foes acknowledged the need to expand protections for disabled people in developing countries but said the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) already provides such safeguards in this country.
All of the Senate's 51 Democrats, as well as the chamber's two independents, voted for the treaty's ratification. Eight Republicans joined them.
President Obama signed the CRPD in 2009, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it in a 13-6 vote in July of this year. Three Republicans joined the 10 Democrats on the panel in supporting the treaty at that time.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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