WASHINGTON—The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved a controversial disabilities treaty, renewing a battle with conservatives who say it could be used to expand abortion and strip parents of the right to homeschool their children.
The Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) passed on a 12-6 vote, almost identical to the 13-6 tally two years ago. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., joined 10 Democrats in voting to send the treaty to the full Senate.
Although the treaty sounds innocuous, a large coalition of conservative groups have risen to oppose it, including Joni & Friends, Family Research Council, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), Concerned Women for America, Heritage Action, Eagle Forum, and Liberty Counsel. Opponents criticize the pact for infringing on U.S. sovereignty, not defining the term “disability,” granting bureaucrats the right to determine what is in “the best interests of the child,” and guaranteeing “sexual and reproductive rights”—language many believe will be used to expand access to abortion.
McCain has previously brushed off the opposition as "wrong" and "bad politics.” He and other supporters, including former President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry, argue the treaty would help disabled Americans traveling overseas and bolster U.S. standing on the issue, since 146 other countries and the European Union have already signed it.
“The U.S. is the world’s undisputed leader in protecting the rights of persons with disabilities—all without the U.S. ever having ratified the CRPD,” 46 organizations wrote in a letter to the top Republican and Democrat on the committee. “Ratifying the CRPD would encroach on U.S. sovereignty and the right of Americans to legislate as they see fit.”
A treaty must have a two-thirds majority, 67 votes, in the Senate to be ratified. The CRPD came five votes short in a late 2012 vote before the full Senate.
McCain and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, have acknowledged they don’t currently have the votes for ratification, signaling supporters may attempt another lame duck vote after the mid-term elections in November.
“We all want to show our support for people with disabilities,” said Michael Farris, founder of HSLDA—which is urging its members to voice their opposition. “This treaty, however, is not the way to do it.”