The Corner

Constituting a Culture of Death: Tomorrow’s Vote in Kenya

Tomorrow, Kenyans will vote on a new constitution. Constitutional reform is needed there, but the constitution up for a vote tomorrow is one that would open the door to unrestricted abortion in a country that’s had a longstanding prohibition on abortion. The Obama administration has been a strident advocate of this constitution, having sent the vice president over there to rally for it, having sent money over there to help with education campaigns for it (something a group of Republican congressmen have raised legal questions about), and having reportedly made promises to leaders there about more aid and maybe even a Barack Obama visit to come if they do as asked and pass this constitution tomorrow. Proponents of the new constitution have taken a page from the health-care fight here in the United States, working overtime to gloss over details and instead simply casting anyone against this particular constitution as against all that is right and good. As I wrote last month here, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

To dig deeper on this question, I directed some questions about the Kenyan constitutional-reform process and the U.S.’s role in it to Terrence McKeegan, vice president and senior counsel at the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, a pro-life watchdog of the United Nations and other international institutions.  

Q: Why should a busy American care about the Kenyan constitution?

A: Because the Obama administration cares so much about it. This administration has exerted huge political capital and huge amounts of taxpayer dollars (upwards of $23 million) towards a campaign that has actively promoted the passage of the newly drafted constitution. The issue is so important to this administration that Vice President Biden made a stopover in Kenya on his way to the World Cup in South Africa to give a speech encouraging a yes vote on the constitutional referendum.  

Q: What was Joe Biden doing in Kenya in June?

A: The crux of Biden’s message was that the U.S. wants to help Kenyans, but that Kenyans had to adopt this constitution in order for us to do that. In fact, Biden literally promised millions of dollars in new aid if the people only voted for the new constitution.  

Q: There is a lot of confusion about abortion and this constitution. Does it legalize abortion or not?

A: Quite clearly, it does. The problem with the final draft of the constitution is that, while it has an explicit clause that protects the right to life from conception, it provides for exceptions in the event that the health of the mother is in danger or where permitted by any other written law. In every place where a broad exception for the health of the mother has been allowed, abortion on demand has resulted. This is because the pro-abortion NGOs like Planned Parenthood that help to draft this language have been very successful in pushing the idea that there is a right to maternal health — even where the life of the mother is not threatened in any way — that supersedes the unborn child’s right to life.

Q: Is it legal for U.S. taxpayer money to be going toward this?

A: Under a provision of U.S. law known as the Siljander Amendment, no public funds may be used to lobby for abortion or the liberalization or legalization of abortion in foreign countries. Rep. Chris Smith just issued a press release, citing a report from USAID, that over $23 million has already been allocated by the U.S. government in relation to the Kenyan constitutional referendum. Many of the groups receiving U.S. funds have been promoting a yes vote, and some are openly pro-abortion groups, such as Development Alternatives, which received $3 million dollars and has openly supported “advocating for efforts to eventually legalize abortion in Kenya.”  

Q: And what about sharia? Does it really mandate sharia justice for Muslims?

A: The constitution provides for kadhi (sharia) courts throughout the country that would have authority over some legal areas for Muslims. This is not only a threat to Christians, who have no similar courts outlined in the constitution, but also to the more moderate Muslims who would be subject to them and may not agree with some of the more fundamentalist teachings that these courts might subscribe to. Even more problematic for religious freedom is the fact that, while constitution grants everyone the right to manifest his religion, it deliberately omits the rights to promote one’s religion or to change one’s religion, rights that are guaranteed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While many might question how the U.S. could support this constitution in light of the lack of religious-freedom rights, it has been noted by some observers that there has been a subtle but seismic shift in the administration’s emphasis: from promoting a comprehensive right to freedom of religion to a much more limited right to freedom of worship. The Kenyan constitution seems to fit in well with this new conception.  

Q: What happens to Kenya if this constitution does not pass? Isn’t there something to worries that one must vote yes to this constitution because a no vote will inevitably lead to violence? Or is that what yes proponents want people to believe?

A: Incredibly, there is no provision under the agreement calling for the constitutional referendum that gives any direction as to what to do if the constitution is rejected. The political leaders did not even envision such an outcome, and it is unclear what the next steps would be, although there doesn’t seem to be anything that would prevent Kenyans from immediately drafting a constitution that more properly reflects the values of the people there.  

Q: We know that the Obama administration is helping anyone who wants this constitution passed. Who is helping those who don’t want this one?

A: Well, certainly not the local and national media. Despite recent polls showing a nearly identical split on the referendum, Kenyan media has been incredibly effective at limiting any coverage of the no side, even refusing to accept most of their proposed advertisements. The churches and concerned citizens are conducting a true grassroots campaign to get the message out that, while everyone agrees there is a pressing need for constitutional reform, the constitution they have been given is simply unacceptable and must be rewritten to protect life and religious freedom.

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