Three leading U.S. congressmen have requested a federal probe into whether the Obama administration broke federal laws by promoting a proposed Kenyan constitution that “radically” changes abortion policy.
The Obama administration’s advocacy supporting Kenya’s proposed constitution may constitute a “serious violation” of the Siljander Amendment and may be subject to civil and criminal penalties, the lawmakers said.
According to Rep. Smith’s office, the Siljander Amendment, annually included in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, prohibits lobbying for or against abortion using the funds made available in the act. Penalties for violating the amendment can range from administrative sanctions, such as suspension from duty without pay or removal from office, to sanctions up to a $5,000 fine and imprisonment for up to two years.
Writing to Inspectors General (IG) of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) made the allegations against the U.S. administration.
According to Rep. Smith’s office, the lawmakers reported that Kenya’s current constitution includes no reference to abortion and abortion is not legally permitted in Kenya except to save the life of the mother.
The proposed constitution, which will be subject to a public referendum in August 2010, includes two new articles that if adopted would “enshrine a new constitutional right to abortion in Kenya and dramatically change Kenya’s abortion law,” they charged.
Article 26 of the proposed constitution would allow abortion in cases where health care professionals believe a mother’s “health” is endangered, an exception which has been broadly interpreted in many countries. Article 43 of the proposed constitution would create the right to health care services including “reproductive health care.”
“Reproductive health care” is not defined in the constitution, but it is a common euphemism for abortion access. On April 22, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the Obama administration believes that reproductive health “includes access to abortion.”
In the congressmen’s view, any expression of support for or opposition to the proposed constitution, including drafting, offering technical advice, or providing foreign assistance designed to influence public opinion “unavoidably involves lobbying for or against abortion.”
“This concern is particularly salient given the prominence of the abortion issue in the public debate over the referendum,” the congressmen’s letter continued.
They reported that the chairman of Kenya’s Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review has named abortion as one of the four most contentious issues in the proposal.
Rep. Smith noted that the U.S. State Department has pledged to spend $2 million to build support for the proposed constitution.
The congressmen requested an “immediate audit” of all U.S. government funds used or anticipated to be used to support Kenya’s proposed constitution.
Rep. Smith is the leading Republican on the House Africa and Global Health Subcommittee. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, while Rep. Issa is the lead Republican on the House Oversight Committee. According to Rep. Smith’s office, all three congressmen have broad legal oversight jurisdiction concerning federal funds used internationally.