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Charge: U.S. promoting abortion in Kenya

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Obama administration has illegally expended USAID funds in Kenya in support of a proposed constitution that, if approved Aug. 4, will expand the practice of abortion in the African nation, a leading pro-life congressman is charging.

Rep. Chris Smith has charged that “the U.S. is illegally and systematically funding grantees [nonprofit groups in Kenya] in a scheme to identify and motivate a huge number of ‘yes’ votes” for an abortion-permissive constitution in what appears to be “exactly like a massive lobbying and political campaign.”

Smith, R.-N.J., has based his charge of illegal activity by the Obama administration on the Siljander Amendment, which Congress has adopted annually stating that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to lobby for or against abortion.”

Smith, citing USAID information that $23 million has been expended in Kenya to fund nonprofit organizations promoting voter turnout, has waged his allegation of illegality since mid-July, including a July 21 news conference and written statement.

To date, Smith’s allegations have resulted in the U.S. Embassy in Kenya suspending funding to nine of as many as 200 recipient organizations. Smith has noted that one of the groups — which helped draft the broadened abortion language — has ties to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The nine organizations “may be only a tip of the iceberg,” Smith asserted at the July 21 news conference.

Smith, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, was joined by Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., ranking member of the House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

Smith, Wolf and two other Republican members of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Darrell Issa of California, sent a letter July 19 to Donald A. Gambatesa, inspector general of USAID, raising a number of concerns about USAID funding in the run-up to the constitutional vote in Kenya.

The proposed constitution is a key component of a reform effort in the wake of widespread ethnic violence following Kenya’s disputed presidential election in December 2007. More than 1,500 Kenyans were killed and 300,000 displaced, according to State Department figures.

The U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, has acknowledged that the Obama administration has “made it clear that a new constitution is absolutely essential for the future, security and prosperity of this great nation.” Ranneberger’s comments, spoken to the Kenya Broadcasting Corp., were reported by LifeNews.com on July 22.

The constitution is crucial for Kenya in overcoming “issues of corruption” in order to attract foreign investments, Ranneberger said.

But the U.S. Embassy in Kenya said charges are “categorically false” that USAID funds have been used to push for adoption of the proposed constitution, LifeNews.com reported. “The U.S. Government is supporting the constitutional review process as the centerpiece of the broad reform agenda agreed to following the post-election crisis,” the embassy said.

According to LifeNews.com, the proposed constitution, while containing language for the right to life for unborn children, also contains “a section with a health exception [for the mother] that essentially opens the nation to unlimited abortions throughout pregnancy for any reason.”

Article 26 in the proposed constitution is at issue: “Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”

Kenya’s current constitution makes no reference to abortion; the practice is illegal by statute.

Polling in Kenya has found that voters likely will adopt the proposed constitution in the Aug. 4 referendum. A survey of 6,000 Kenyans from July 11-17, for example, found that 58 percent favored the proposed constitution; 22 percent were opposed; and the remainder were undecided or didn’t intend to vote.

Smith, in a statement he read at the July 21 news conference, challenged not only the legality of some USAID grants to nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in Kenya but also the ethics of U.S. involvement in the Aug. 4 vote.

The United States and other democracies have “a profoundly important, but narrow role to play”: to assure that the process in Kenya is “free, fair and peaceful,” Smith said.

“Election monitoring is a hallowed process designed to protect the integrity and legitimacy of the voting process before, on the day of actual balloting and during certification of the results,” Smith said. “Under no circumstances should the U.S. government take sides by supporting, facilitating and funding projects designed to identify and motivate votes for either side. Yet that is precisely what the Obama administration has done.”

In regard to abortion, Smith said at least two NGO recipients of USAID funding helped draft the abortion language in the proposed constitution:

— the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), recipient of $85,363 in U.S. funding. Smith said FIDA-Kenya is a member of the Kenyan Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance (RHRA), which is supported by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Smith noted: “According to the PPFA website, the RHRA’s activities include ‘drafting reproductive health provisions for the revised constitution.’ PPFA’s work in Kenya includes ‘increasing the availability of affordable safe abortion services and supporting advocates to decriminalize abortion in the country.'”

— the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review in Kenya, which Smith said “received over $180,000 of U.S. taxpayer monies for office equipment and networking capability.” In addition to drafting the abortion-related provisions in the proposed constitution, Smith said the committee rejected a parliamentary committee’s insertion of a life-of-the-mother exception to abortion into the draft constitution and, instead, “added a ‘health’ exception to abortion,” Smith noted. “It is commonly known that health exceptions to abortion often lead to abortion on demand owing to the broad definition of health that includes socio-economic reasons as exemplified in the U.S. Supreme Court [Roe v. Wade] decision on abortion in 1973.”

Regarding a third NGO, Development Alternatives, Inc., Smith said DAI “is receiving almost $3 million as a primary grant recipient.” Smith stated that DAI “advised USAID in 2000 that USAID/Kenya would benefit by supporting civil society organizations that are advocating for ‘efforts to eventually legalize abortion in Kenya,'” while acknowledging that such activity would be “politically sensitive.”

Fox News, in a July 22 report, quoted Theresa Okafor, CEO of Kenya’s Life League, as describing the proposed constitution as “a conspiracy to strip Africa of its cherished values by international organizations like Planned Parenthood and the United Nations.”

“Africans regard every child as a blessing,” Okafor said in a speech. “Amidst biting poverty, the birth of a child is celebrated with pomp and pageantry. Children are treasures in Africa.”
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.