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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Mounting opposition

Congress | Conservative lawmakers vow to block an international disabilities treaty that could affect U.S. sovereignty, homeschooling, and the promotion of abortion

WASHINGTON—Opposition is growing for a seemingly benign treaty that has conservatives on Capitol Hill calling it a serious threat to U.S. sovereignty. 

A group of 36 Republican senators have banded together to rebuff any efforts to pass the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) before the end of the upcoming post-election, lame duck session of Congress. This effectively throws the decision to the 113th Congress, which takes office in January, since treaty ratification requires two-thirds approval (67 votes) in the Senate.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., attempted to pass the treaty by unanimous consent before Congress left for recess last week, but the effort failed when Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, swooped in to object to the surprise move.

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Lee held up a letter, signed by the 36 senators, explaining why the group would be opposing any treaty consideration before the end of the year (download a pdf of the letter). “It is very important to make sure that we have a full understanding of what these treaties mean," Lee said.

Article 6 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution guarantees any treaty ratified by the Senate will become the “supreme law of the land.” This raises concerns that the CRPD would hand over decisions for Americans with disabilities to un-elected bureaucrats. 

The CRPD has also drawn the ire of 50 Republican House members who last week petitioned the Senate not to approve the treaty. (Download a PDF of the letter.)

“We remain convinced that the risks to the United States posed by the Disabilities Convention far outweigh any potential benefits that could be realized by U.S. ratification,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The CRPD passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 13-6, in July with the support of 10 Democrats and three Republicans. More than 115 countries have already ratified the treaty, which has drawn support from prominent Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, former President George H.W. Bush, and former Sen. Bob Dole. Proponents say it would give American citizens more rights when traveling abroad. 

But opponents argue the treaty would strip parents of the right to decide what’s in the best interest of their children, including the choice to educate them at home. Home School Legal Defense Association founder Michael Farris told me the treaty gives homeschoolers serious reason to be concerned: “We’re giving away the sovereignty of the family, as well as giving away the sovereignty of America.” (See “Undue influence,” Aug. 14.)

Among its other issues, the CRPD doesn’t define “disability,” which it says is an “evolving concept.” It also includes the phrase “sexual and reproductive health,” language that some claim includes the right to an abortion. The Vatican has already refused to sign the treaty on the grounds that it may be used to promote abortion.

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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