Last week, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) decided that what taxpayers in his Trenton district really needed was for him to intercede in Kenyans' democratic decisions around abortion. Not content to rest after failed attempts to redefine rape in domestic legislation, he dipped his hand into taxpayer money so he could travel to Kenya to condemn the country's new constitution and lobby against abortion access in life-saving situations.
Kenya's constitutional reform was approved last year by an overwhelming vote. A relatively minuscule section of the overall constitution includes a provision that would decriminalize abortion in emergency situations -- where the life or health of the mother is at risk. Yet Smith's trip was not to build his own understanding of why Kenyans see a need for that reform (in a country where unsafe abortion is responsible for more than one-third of maternal deaths), nor to learn about how U.S. foreign assistance is critical in saving the lives of women and newborns. Instead, he used his position as a U.S. Congressman to star in his own show: self-appointed leader in the call for an abortion-free world -- regardless of how many women would die or suffer as a result.
The trip is representative of the hypocrisy and endorsement of human rights abuses that characterize Rep. Smith's 30-year tenure in the House. It is also a questionable use of taxpayer funds, in the midst of a budget crisis, and in a time when his home state of New Jersey is still posting a nine percent unemployment rate (that is another issue). It's a signal that we need to take a good look at Rep. Smith's personal crusade against women and mothers globally.
Some 350,000 women die each year from preventable, pregnancy related causes, with approximately 47,000 deaths attributed to unsafe abortion. A staunch opponent of family planning and safe, legal abortion--interventions that would help prevent maternal deaths--Smith has no regard for a woman's right to health and to life. While he now sprinkles his speeches with references to saving women from abortion, it is clear he has absolutely no interest in also saving them from life-threatening pregnancies.
Yet, members of Congress and global rights and health organizations continue to ignore this fact and uphold Rep. Smith as a defender of human rights and global health. Rep. Smith gladly accepts this recognition for his efforts in tackling refugee and human trafficking issues. But he does so while trampling the rights of women and putting them directly in harm's way. His global abortion agenda smacks of a desire to impose abroad what he cannot accomplish at home.
Constituents in Trenton might rightly ask why Kenyans' decisions are subject to Rep. Smith's taxpayer-funded critiques. It appears Rep. Smith has lost his way in his war on women and his colleagues in the House and advocacy groups should take note. This "human rights champion," in fact, has no clothes.
Follow Serra Sippel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/genderhealth