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Secretary Clinton Discusses Family Planning, CEDAW with House Committee

On April 22, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “New Beginnings: Foreign Policy Priorities in the Obama Administration.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testified on behalf of the Obama Administration. 

Chair Howard Berman (D-CA) stated, “Normally, the Secretary’s first appearance before the committee would be to present the administration’s budget for the next fiscal year. But, given the transition and the understandable delay in preparing the fiscal year 2010 budget, I’ve asked her to testify today on the administration’s overall foreign policy agenda and to discuss the broad outlines of the budget request…I am committed, and I know many of my colleagues on the committee are as well, to doing everything that we can to ensure that the budget request is fully funded. We will also do our part by marking up and passing a State Department authorization bill, hopefully on a bipartisan basis, very soon after we receive the detailed budget. And later this year, we hope to pass foreign assistance reform legislation to rationalize our various foreign aid programs and provide the administration additional flexibility to ensure that the most urgent needs are being met.” 

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) asked Secretary Clinton, “Is the Obama Administration seeking, in any way, to weaken or overturn pro-life laws or policies in African and Latin American countries, either directly or through multilateral organizations, including, and especially, the United Nations, African Union, or the OAS [Organization of American States], or by way of funding NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] like Planned Parenthood? Secondly…does the United States definition of the term ‘reproductive health’ or ‘reproductive services’ or ‘reproductive rights’ include abortion?”

Secretary Clinton responded, “We obviously have a profound disagreement. When I think about the suffering that I have seen, of women around the world…I’ve been in hospitals in Brazil, where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies, and the other half were fighting for their lives because of botched abortions. I’ve been in African countries, where 12 and 13 year old girls are bearing children. I have been in Asian countries where the denial of family planning consigns women to lives of oppression and hardship. So we have a very fundamental disagreement…We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health, and reproductive health includes access to abortion, [which] I believe should be safe, legal, and rare. I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to bring down the rate of abortions and it has been my experience that good family planning and good medical care bring down the rate of abortion. Keeping men and women in ignorance and denying access to services actually increases the rate of abortion…So, we disagree. And we are now an administration that will protect the rights of women, including their right to reproductive health care.”  

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) also asked about the Obama Adminstration’s family planning policies overseas, stating that “export[ing] abortion…will be seen as neo-colonialism and paternalistic…[We] should be big enough and bold enough to celebrate the gift of life.” Secretary Clinton stated, “We have, for eight years, followed the policy [of not providing family planning services], and we’ve gone backwards in the real, genuine care we provide to women.” 

Rep. Smith, along with Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), also raised concerns about China’s “One Child policy,” which restricts the number of children married urban couples may have, and whether the Obama Administration is taking measures against it, “rather than [just] demanding reform.” Secretary Clinton responded, “I share your horror and absolute rejection of the policy…this is a bad policy from any angle…I don’t believe that there is any grounds for us being connected to any policy” that sanctions forcible abortion.  

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) referenced her recent trip to Tanzania to gain information about maternal mortality in that region. Rep. Woolsey stated, “The dignity of [women’s] lives, their future, and their children’s future would be much better with family planning options available to them.” Rep. Woolsey also asked about the chances of ratifying the treaty on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) during the Obama Administration. Rep. Woolsey said, “It’s time to move beyond this embarrassing, shameful distinction” of being one of a handful of countries who have not ratified the treaty. Secretary Clinton replied that the administration is “forwarding CEDAW, with other treaty priorities, to the Senate with the hopes that this could be the year” it is ratified.

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