By Tess Civantos
Published July 22, 2010
May 15, 2010: Kenyan supporters cheer at a rally to launch campaigns for the constitution referendum, in the capital Nairobi.
A Republican lawmaker is accusing the White House of “unconscionable” and “illegal” acts for its role in Kenya's referendum on a new constitution, which would legalize abortion in the country for the first time.
Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey cited a report by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, that estimated that more than $23 million in U.S. taxpayer funds have been spent on the referendum. Smith and other conservatives have complained that at least some of that money has been spent in support of the proposed constitution, possibly violating U.S. law.
“Under no circumstances should the U.S. government take sides,” Smith said at a news conference Wednesday. “Yet that is precisely what the Obama administration has done.”
The proposed constitution will curtail the vast powers of the Kenyan president, offering more balance among the different branches of government in an effort to bring order and stability to the political process of a nation often torn by tumultuous exchanges of power.
Vice President Biden told the Kenyan people in a recent speech, "Let me repeat, this is your decision, your decision alone. And the people of Kenya must make this choice -- a choice for Kenya by Kenyans."
Smith and other lawmakers have accused the Obama administration of offering incentives to Kenya to approve the controversial new constitution, promising that passage would “allow money to flow” into the nation's coffers. A federal law known as the Siljander Amendment makes it illegal for the U.S. government to lobby on abortion in other countries.
“We were unable to get any information prior to asking for those (USAID) reports,” Smith said. “There’s been no transparency in this process.”
Smith had been joined by Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, both Republicans, in requesting the federal investigation into the administration's spending on the referendum.
“U.S. law is being violated with impunity,” Smith told FoxNews.com. “We shouldn’t be pushing for other the ‘yes’ or the ‘no’ camp, but instead, we’re bankrolling the ‘yes’ campaign.”
One group that has received almost $3 million from the U.S. government, Development Alternatives, openly supported “advocating for efforts to eventually legalize abortion in Kenya,” Smith said. Another group, The Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review in Kenya, changed the wording of the Kenyan constitution’s abortion clause to make abortion more widely accessible – and has received over $180,000 from the U.S.
Thanks to these findings, nine of the more than 200 organizations in Kenya that received money from the U.S. have been suspended from receiving assistance, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Katya Thomas in Nairobi told the AP Friday.
But the congressmen are asking for more. They want the White House to be held accountable for its role.
“If violations of the law have occurred, which on the face of it they have, the information must be brought before law enforcement,” Smith said. “Not even presidents are above the law.”
The federal probe also found that the Kenyan constitution was not actually written by Kenyans, but by “U.S.-funded NGOs, working in concert with Planned Parenthood,” Smith said.
According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s website, Planned Parenthood supports the Kenyan groups that wrote the abortion clause – the Kenyan Federation of Women Lawyers and its parent organization the Kenyan Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance.
Planned Parenthood’s website states that it sought “to improve maternal health conditions in Kenya by securing reproductive health laws and policies that promote women's health,” its motivation for becoming involved in the constitutional revision process.
But some Kenyans think that the role of American organizations like Planned Parenthood in drafting the Kenyan constitution compromises Kenyan sovereignty and assaults its cultural heritage.
Theresa Okafor, CEO of Kenya’s Life League, said in a speech that the proposed constitution is “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. “Amidst biting poverty, the birth of a child is celebrated with pomp and pageantry. Children are treasures in Africa.”
Because abortion has never been an issue in Kenya until now, the country lacks an organized anti-abortion movement on the scale seen in the United States. But a number of church groups are mobilizing against the proposed constitution, as are some Kenyans who want to preserve the traditional culture of family values.
In March 2003, a group of young professionals formed the Life League, one of Kenya’s first pro-life organizations. In 2009, the Life League and 20 other Kenyan pro-life and pro-family groups united to form the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage – a heritage that they believe the abortion provision attacks.