Sen. McCain calls abortion argument against disability treaty 'bad politics'

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called GOP arguments that the United Nations treaty on disability rights affects U.S. abortion laws “bad politics” and “wrong.”

McCain urged his colleagues to pass the U.N. treaty, which would give people with disabilities equal rights in countries that ratify the convention.

The Senate votes on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) at noon Tuesday.

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have expressed concern over the treaty, saying they didn’t want international treaties writing U.S. law on issues such as abortion and home-schooling. But advocates for the treaty have said it’s based on the Americans With Disabilities Act, granting people with disabilities equal rights, meaning U.S. law already follows the treaty.

McCain said the recommendations from the treaty are nonbinding and will not affect current U.S. law, and disputed the argument that the treaty would affect abortion laws at all.

“With respect to abortion, this is a disabilities treaty and has nothing to do with abortion,” McCain said on the floor Monday evening. “Trying to turn this into an abortion debate is bad politics and just wrong.”

In September, 36 Senate Republicans called on the leaders of both parties not to consider any treaties during the lame-duck session. Their letter said the Constitution clearly envisions giving the Senate ample time to consider all international treaties, and said the brief lame-duck session didn’t provide enough time.

McCain said even if members signed the letter, that shouldn’t prohibit them voting for final passage, because the letter specifically states opposition to the consideration of the treaty, which has already been gained with a 61-36 vote last month.

“I have not forgotten that 36 senators signed a letter opposing consideration of the treaty,” McCain said. “There is no reason we shouldn’t have a vote on this. ... The letter says they oppose consideration ... but we have adopted consideration.”

McCain also pointed to the fact that treaties have been approved by the Senate 19 times during past lame-duck sessions.

McCain and Senate Democrats have been urging Republicans to vote for passage of the treaty, which requires two-thirds approval, with the help of former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Dole, a veteran with a disability, has argued for passage because it would benefit U.S. citizens and veterans with disabilities, who travel, study, do business or reside abroad.

“There’s no reason that we cannot say that we lived up to our obligations,” McCain said. “We need to step up and do the right thing for Bob Dole and the rest of our U.S. veterans.”

The treaty ensures that countries ratifying it work toward equality for persons with disabilities in accessibility, health, education and employment, among other areas.