In a recent letter, United States Representative Chris Smith called governments’ attention to an “urgent” matter: the Obama Administration supports universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. This letter comes at a time when governmental representatives come together for this week’s Economic and Social Council of the United Nations meeting in Geneva to discuss how to best tackle some of the most pressing global health issues, including the daunting task of realizing the Millennium Development Goals.
“Make no mistake,” wrote Rep. Smith in the June 26 letter sent to governments, “unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration believes ‘reproductive health’ means abortion-on-demand.”
Rep. Smith’s spin leaves something to be desired. I wasn’t in the room with Smith and Secretary Clinton during the hearing, but I did watch the webcast. And while I can’t recall the Secretary calling for abortion-on-demand, I do recall her trademark eloquence—and her commitment to the health and rights of women and girls worldwide— in standing her ground against Smith by advocating for women’s rights “to reproductive health care… [that] includes access to abortion that I believe should be safe, legal, and rare.”
In his letter, Rep. Smith also appeared to be confounded about the role of the Administration when it comes to US policy:
“When I asked [during the April 22 hearing] whether the administration would seek to weaken or overturn pro-life laws and policies in African and Latin American countries,” wrote Smith, “either directly or through multilateral organizations, including and especially the United Nations… Secretary Clinton responded that the Obama administration was ‘entitled’ to advocate abortion anywhere in the world.”
Every Administration has the authority to advocate positions on controversial issues when dealing with other governments. But a Congressman lobbying against abortion without the authority to represent the US in international fora? Smith is out of his league here.
Maybe Smith is still licking his wounds from the April 22 exchange, or maybe, he needs a good old-fashioned lesson in civics. Or a reminder that governments recently reaffirmed—and strengthened—the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action, highlighting the need to achieve universal access to reproductive and sexual health services, including safe abortion services.
Stating that the Obama Administration advocates abortion-on-demand is a cheap—and misguided—shot. No one is advocating for an increase in the number of abortions that occur worldwide, but rather access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care that includes access to safe abortion when needed.
We have an Administration that has made clear that achieving national security requires equal attention to human security. We have an Administration that believes that women deserve access to the services and information they need to live healthy lives.
And the last time I checked, we have a President, not a congressman from New Jersey, who represents the United States with other nations.