WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged at a congressional hearing the Obama administration regards abortion as "reproductive health" care and believes women throughout the world have a right to the procedure.
Clinton also defended her admiration for the late eugenicist Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.
Appearing before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Clinton told Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), "We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women's health and reproductive health includes access to abortion -- that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.
"[W]e are now an administration that will protect the rights of women, including their rights to reproductive health care," Clinton said, according to a transcript.
The Secretary of State responded to two questions from Smith, probably the leading pro-life advocate in Congress: (1) Is the administration trying to undermine pro-life policies in Africa and Latin America directly through multinational organizations, such as the United Nations, or by supporting non-governmental organizations, such as Planned Parenthood? (2) Does the administration define "reproductive health" to include abortion?
Another pro-lifer, Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, also questioned Clinton about the administration's funding of abortion. Fortenberry told her he has five daughters, adding, "[P]art of trying to raise them well and empower them to be successful, I believe, is enculturating them with the noble ideal that all persons have inherent dignity and, therefore, rights."
In her response, Clinton advocated for the ability of women overseas to choose abortion.
"I admire you for raising five strong daughters who will be able to make their own choice and, most likely, given your guidance, will be very staunchly pro-life," she told Fortenberry. "But that is a choice that they will be able to exercise as free, independent, American women. That's what I want for all women."
After the April 22 hearing, Smith said, "It is evident that Mrs. Clinton and President Obama want to force the tragedy of abortion upon women around the world, especially and including in countries where democratically elected leaders want to continue to protect their unborn children.
"There are other ways in which both mother and baby are protected, cared for and helped -- with food, nutrition, clean water and life-affirming healthcare," Smith said in a written statement. "Secretary Clinton's inability to see this will mean more babies will die and more women will suffer the consequence of abortion as a result of U.S. foreign policy overseas."
Fortenberry told Clinton he did not "believe we should use American foreign policy to export abortion. This will undermine, in my view, our foreign relations in many areas throughout the world, including Latin America and Africa and among Muslim peoples.
"Promoting the international abortion industry is an imposition of our own woundedness upon others," Fortenberry added. "Abortion has caused tremendous grief in this society, and its export, I believe, will be seen as a form of neocolonialism that is paternalistic and elitist and an insult on the dignity of especially the poor and vulnerable. I believe women deserve better, women throughout the world deserve better."
During his first 100 days, Obama has initiated the repeal of some of the pro-life policies in effect during the Bush administration. Among these was his reversal of the Mexico City Policy, which barred federal funds from organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas. He also has restored money through the State Department to the United Nations Population Fund, which had its congressional funding withdrawn by the Bush administration for seven years over its support of China's coercive population control program.
Smith and Fortenberry also questioned how Clinton could express admiration for Sanger March 27 when the Planned Parenthood Federation of America gave Clinton an award named after a leader in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century.
Eugenics is the belief the human race can be improved by discouraging or coercively preventing the reproduction of people regarded as "unfit," -- normally the disabled and poor -- or promoting the reproduction of the "fit," those with genetic characteristics considered desirable.
During the Planned Parenthood's awards dinner, Clinton described receiving the Margaret Sanger Award as a "great privilege." Clinton said: "I admire Margaret Sanger enormously, her courage, her tenacity, her vision.... I am really in awe of her."
Clinton also said the "20th-century reproductive rights movement, really embodied in the life and leadership of Margaret Sanger, was one of the most transformational in the entire history of the human race."
Smith told Clinton at the hearing, "With all due respect, Madam Secretary, Sanger's legacy was indeed transformational, but not for the better, if one happens to be poor, disenfranchised, weak, disabled, a person of color, an unborn child or among the many so-called 'undesirables' Sanger would exclude and exterminate from the human race."
Clinton replied to Fortenberry by comparing her admiration for Sanger with her admiration for Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States.
"I admire his words and his leadership, and I deplore his unrepentant slave-holding," she said. "I admire Margaret Sanger being a pioneer in trying to empower women to have some control over their bodies. And I deplore statements that you have referenced.
"That is the way we often are when we looked at flawed human beings," Clinton said. "There are things that we admire and things we deplore."
Earlier, Clinton acknowledged to Smith, "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 against 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."
Upon receiving the Sanger award in March, Clinton assured abortion-rights advocates that "reproductive rights and the umbrella issue of women's rights and empowerment will be a key to the foreign policy of this administration."
Planned Parenthood is the United States' leading abortion provider and lobbied for the new administration's changes in abortion policy. Planned Parenthood affiliates performed more than 305,000 abortions in 2007, the latest year for which statistics are available.
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