WHEN I Was a new reporter [for a conservative Christian publication], I was told to cover a women’s rights treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). My assignment was to report on the treaty’s treatment of the unborn, not its treatment of women, although the treaty contained not a single mention of a right to abortion. It only mentioned babies to say that both women and men have a responsibility for bringing them up and that a pregnant woman should not experience discrimination. But abortion? Not a word.
The treaty’s text didn’t matter, my conservative Christian sources told me. The committee in charge of interpreting the document had mentioned abortion rights, and although this committee had no power to make its interpretation anything more than suggestion, they would launch an assault on nations that still prohibited abortion.
I had expected a more convincing argument—a treaty that promoted abortion rights so emphatically that its endorsement of evil outweighed its promotion of justice, education, and equality. I looked up Afghanistan’s human rights report, just to see what kind of injustice women face around the world. What I read was worse than I’d imagined—not a set of statistics, but stories of how a patriarchal society devalued and degraded and destroyed real women. A boy raped and impregnated his sister, but when the girl told her parents, she was the one they set on fire and killed. A 40-year-old husband tortured his 16-year-old wife for a year, breaking her teeth with stones and cutting off her nose and ears. Authorities didn’t investigate either crime; in fact police regularly detained women for the crime of fleeing abusive husbands and fathers. One line evoked an image that haunts me today: “Women occasionally resorted to self-immolation when they felt there was no escape from these situations.”