White and Potter (“Baby Boy”) v. United States

The President of the Catholics for Christian Political Action and another filed a claim against the United States and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts claiming they failed to fulfill their obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (the Declaration) and American Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) (the United States has signed but not ratified the Convention).

The Petitioners claimed a “baby boy” was killed by abortion process in the United States and a doctor, who stood trial for performing an abortion in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was prevented from being punished for the allegedly criminal act. Petitioners claimed both acts violated the right to life under article 1 of the Declaration, as informed by the definition and description of the right to life in the Convention. They also claimed violations of article II (“All persons are equal before the law… without distinction as to race, sex, language, creed, or any other factor,” here, age), article VII (“All children have the right to special protection, care, and aid”), and article XI (“Every person has the right to the preservation of his health…”) of the Declaration.

The Petitioners also claimed the Supreme Court of the United States’ decisions in Roe vs. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Doe vs. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), which established the lawfulness of abortion under particular circumstances, constituted violations of the right to life. Petitioners argued the rulings imported “absolute arbitrariness” into the decision as to whether an abortion shall be performed in a particular case. They claimed this violated article 4 (right to life) of the Convention, which states that no one shall be “arbitrarily deprived of his life.” Petitioners also contended that the right to life was protected under the Convention “from the moment of conception.”

The United States presented three counter-arguments as to why the right to life in the Declaration had not been violated:

  1. Conferees at the adoption of the Declaration in Bogotá in 1948 rejected language extending the protection of the right to life to the unborn;
  2. The Convention was intended to complement the Declaration but existed on a separate legal plane and should be analyzed as such;
  3. United States and Brazilian delegations had placed a statement on record during the second plenary session of the San José Conference of States Parties indicating that they interpreted the right to life in article 4 of the Convention as preserving the discretion of State Parties as to the content of the right in light of their own social development, experience and similar factors.