Mother Jones: Chris Smith's African Abortion Adventure

By Kate Sheppard

"Most members of Congress spent last week's recess back in their districts, talking to their constituents and getting a sense of what Americans want their elected officials to be doing back in Washington. But Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, had other plans: He spent part of the break on a taxpayer-funded trip to Kenya, where he slammed the country's new constitution for allowing abortions in cases when the health of the mother is at risk.

Kenyan abortion restrictions go far beyond those in American law, and Kenya's new constitution, approved overwhelmingly last August, codifies a ban on abortions in the country. But that's not enough for Smith and US anti-abortion groups, who argue that the exception allowing for legal abortions to preserve the health of the mother 'opens the door to abortion on demand'.

Smith wasn't just meeting with Kenyan politicians and activists during his time in East Africa—he was actively politicking. On March 21, Smith spoke at an event on the new constitution sponsored by the Kenya Christian Professional Forum in Limuru, a town about 35 miles outside Kenya's capital, Nairobi. A staffer for the US-based group Center for Reproductive Rights, which recently opened an office in Nairobi, took notes during the speech. In it, the congressman reportedly called for 'a world free of abortion.' Smith also accused 'pro-abortion NGOs' of having 'hijacked' the maternal mortality issue in order to legalize the killing of the unborn, CRR says."

"Smith's office did not respond to requests for comment about his speech in Kenya or the purpose of the trip. But calling for a 'world free of abortion' is certainly consistent with the congressman's record. Stateside, Smith has offered the 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,'a bill that would drastically alter the shape of US abortion law (and would have changed the definition of 'rape,' among other radical measures). Aram Schvey, counsel for foreign policy and human rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says Smith is trying to 'push an agenda that wouldn't be constitutional here' in Kenya."

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