Senator criticizes Obama nominee’s claim that Mexico City Policy is ‘unconstitutional’

President Barack Obama / James B. Steinberg
President Barack Obama / James B. Steinberg


An Obama nominee for Deputy Secretary of State who argued the Mexico City Policy would be a free speech violation if applied domestically is being charged by a U.S. senator with contradicting U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The Mexico City Policy forbids funding for groups which perform or promote abortions. It was originally enacted under the Reagan administration, reversed under the Clinton administration, reintroduced under the George W. Bush presidency, and again reversed on Jan. 23 by President Barack Obama.

The Deputy Secretary of State nominee, James B. Steinberg, made his comments in written testimony to the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) asked whether Steinberg supported President Obama’s efforts to lift the Mexico City Policy’s restrictions “and use the federal taxpayer dollars to fund abortion services overseas.”

“Do you support President Obama's efforts to lift the Mexico City restrictions? Do you believe our foreign policy should contradict long held domestic policies?” Sen. DeMint asked.

Steinberg replied:

“President Obama has supported repeal of the Mexico City policy, as has Secretary Clinton. Longstanding law, authored by Senator Jesse Helms, expressly prohibits the use of U.S. funds of abortion. The Mexico City policy is an unnecessary restriction that, if applied to organizations based in this country, would be an unconstitutional limitation on free speech.”

“Steinberg’s opinion is in direct contradiction to the U.S. Supreme Court,” a Monday posting on the blog of Sen. DeMint argued, saying that the high court “definitively decided” the matter in a 1991 case Rust v. Sullivan.

“The Government has no constitutional duty to subsidize an activity merely because it is constitutionally protected, and may validly choose to allocate public funds for medical services relating to childbirth but not to abortion,” the court’s majority decision read.

CNA spoke about Steinberg’s testimony in a Wednesday phone interview with Sen. DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton.

“It’s pretty clear that the Supreme Court has emphatically ruled on this issue and that there is no constitutional protection of taxpayer funding for abortion. To restrict those funds is perfectly legitimate under the constitution,” Denton said.

“There’s a concern that without the Mexico City Policy countries that receive foreign aid that have strong pro-life laws may feel forced to remove those laws and restrictions against abortion to receive U.S. foreign aid,” he explained.

He referenced a 2006 list titled “44 Nations Arbitrarily Pressured by UN Treaty Committees To Legalize or Increase Access to Abortion,” produced by Focus on the Family U.N. Representative Thomas W. Jacobson.

Denton called Steinberg’s attempt to distinguish between funding of abortion services and funding of organizations which perform or promote abortion “a distinction without a difference.”

“They just move the money around within the organization,” he claimed in his conversation with CNA.

Sen. DeMint co-sponsored an amendment to the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 seeking to restore the Mexico City Policy. The amendment was defeated by 60-37 in a Wednesday vote.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), reputed to be a pro-life Democrat, voted against the amendment. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) was the only Democrat who favored the measure.

Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) broke with fellow Republicans and opposed the amendment.

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