A year ago this month, the U.S. Senate rejected the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, 61-38. It fell painfully short of the two-thirds vote needed to ratify it. This vote happened minutes after former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole had left the chamber floor after lobbying for the treaty’s passage.
Both of our state’s current GOP senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, greeted the now-frail Dole with all the deference, cordiality and respect he had earned as a war hero, politician and statesman. Then they voted “no.”
The Americans With Disabilities Act that Dole championed was the blueprint for the treaty, which was finalized in 2006. Of the democratic and advanced nations that signed it the next year, only Japan and the United States haven’t ratified it.
I don’t know why Japan hasn’t ratified it, but the reason why this country hasn’t is the same reason why Moran and Roberts voted “no” last year: tea party hysteria.
The tea party believes that ratifying the treaty would force the government to remove children with disabilities from home schools and place them into public schools. If I thought the treaty threatened homeschooling, I would oppose it, too. But it does not mandate public education for all children with disabilities. Even if it did, the Senate could wriggle out of such a clause quite easily.
Many on the right also believe the treaty would expand access to abortion. It does talk about access to reproductive health, frequently code words for abortion. I oppose abortion, but like the brouhaha over homeschooling, there is an easy way to finesse this issue.
As with every treaty, the Senate can attach a series of reservations, understandings and declarations, or RUDs. These spell out anything in a pact that a signatory to it will not abide by. They are used all the time.
Are RUDs really needed? I don’t know. But the treaty surely is for two reasons.
First, it will help ensure Americans with disabilities the same rights and access they have here when they go abroad. Second, it promotes human rights for the disabled everywhere.
Some senators are now trying to revive the treaty and possibly have another vote before the end of the year. Moran and Roberts should show courageous leadership and back it this time.
They can take to the Senate floor and explain the plight of the disabled everywhere. They can say the treaty will help Americans who go abroad. They can restore our moral leadership. They can do that and honor Dole.
Here’s hoping they do.