The issue of an unborn child’s right to life didn’t make it to the agenda of the Nov. 26-28 International Human Rights Conference in Edmonton. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t discussed among delegates, says conference delegate Pauline Burkinshaw.

“The debate is out there, and there are others who share the (pro-life) viewpoint,” says Burkinshaw, but the fact that an unborn child is not legally recognized as a person limits the context within which the issue can be discussed.

Burkinshaw attended the conference on behalf of the right-to-life committee of Edmonton’s Roman Catholic archdiocese, which provides education and liaison with other pro-life groups, and acts as a resource for the archdiocese.

Burkinshaw says questions of personhood were being asked “subliminally” at the conference, particularly in sessions dealing with bioethical issues and the rights of people with disabilities.

“But what I saw to my sadness was that the unborn child is not involved in that. The declaration of human rights does not extend to the unborn child. My wish is that that will change. It should be a logical, intellectual conclusion that without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless,” she adds.

That sentiment is echoed by Susan McNeely, a representative of Campaign Life Coalition Alberta (CLCA).

“There are many abuses of human rights in the world: torture, discrimination, genocide,” she says. “But the right to life is the most fundamental human right.”

McNeely says that is why CLCA chose to set up a “Show the Truth” demonstration in front of the conference site on Friday morning. About 30 demonstrators lined the street in front of the Sheraton Grande Hotel in downtown Edmonton, holding billboards depicting the bodies of aborted babies in graphic detail.

McNeely says the reaction from conference delegates and passers-by was mixed. “Two delegates in particular were very positive, telling me that the message was very powerful, and to keep it up,” she says. At the same time, a woman who worked in a building across the street from the demonstration voiced her anger at having to look at the pictures through her window.

CLCA president Jim Borgel, who organized the demonstration, says the pictures are disturbing, but their intent was to bring the issue to the attention of delegates. “This is a human rights conference, and we want the UN to recognize the rights of the unborn.”

Borgel said that Canada and China are the only two countries which do not have legislation in place restricting abortion.

Burkinshaw agrees that the legal recognition of an unborn child as a person is fundamental to providing opportunities for discussion on the right-to-life issue. But she says there are other reasons the discussion is not taking place in forums such as the human rights conference.

“Politically, the issue is not attractive, and it is far too complicated” for politicians to deal with, Burkinshaw argues, while many (Christians) tend to avoid the issue because of the fear of being politically incorrect.

“We need constant education, and opportunities for people to follow the Gospel message of caring for our neighbour,” she says.

“We need to look at how we as a church can engage in conversation (about the right to life) in a meaningful way, and be aware of our responsibility to proclaim life.”

This article appeared first in the Western Catholic Reporter, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.