Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision creating a right to abortion, for any reason and throughout all nine months of pregnancy, has given America the most pro-abortion legal stance in the world. And now there is reason to believe that it is being exported to some surprising places.
Kenya is a beautiful land of wonderful people. It is a culture steeped to a large extent in traditional Christianity and Christian values. Kenyans have a deep reverence for the right to life, and abhor abortion. Yet Kenya now stands on the edge of a radical, pro-abortion cliff as it deliberates on its proposed new constitution. That pro-abortion cliff is rather distressingly American in its look, feel, and effect.
As an American visitor in Kenya—and a professor of constitutional law back home —it has been fascinating to watch Kenya’s process of deliberation over a new constitution. Many changes have occurred along the way. One area of great interest involves the changes that have been made to the proposed “Right to Life.” What started as a straightforward and noble protection of the right to life—a constitutional ban on abortion except where medically necessary to save a woman’s life—has been turned completely on its head. In the latest version rewritten by the “Committee of Experts” (CoE), the “right to life” has been slyly transformed into a constitutional right to abortion.
Comparing the versions of earlier drafts shows what has happened. The original Harmonised Draft (November 2009) and the Revised Harmonised Draft (January 2010) submitted by the CoE to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), both protected the “Right to Life.” Indeed, it is the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights: “Every person has the right to life.”
Under the Constitution of Kenya Review Act of 2008, the CoE was required to submit the draft to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) for its “deliberation and consensus building on the contentious issues.” This occurred at January’s important meeting at Naivasha. The PSC enhanced and clarified the “Right to Life” by adding that “The life of a person begins at conception” and specifically prohibiting abortion except to save the mother’s life: “Abortion is not permitted unless in the opinion of a registered medical practitioner, the life of the mother is in danger.”
This reflected a consensus that Kenya’s constitution should protect life and prohibit abortion. At this point, the Constitution of Kenya Review Act of 2008 directed the CoE to “revise the draft Constitution taking into account the achieved consensus” and submit the draft to the PSC, which would then lay it before Parliament.
The CoE did not do this. It did not revise the draft to reflect “the achieved consensus” at Naivasha. On the contrary, the CoE hijacked the “Right to Life” entirely, turning it instead into a right to abortion. Article 26(4) now provides: “Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is a need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”
This provision completely negates the right to life in four ways. First, it changes the decision-maker from a “registered medical practitioner” to any “trained health professional.” Thus, it need not be a doctor or nurse who makes the medical judgment that an abortion is necessary; it can be any professional “trained” in “health,” whether certified or not. This is code language for permitting abortionists to decide whether an abortion should be permitted.
Second, the PSC consensus at Naivasha only permitted abortion when “the life of the mother is in danger.” The CoE re-wrote this to permit abortion when “the life or health” of the mother is in danger. What does “health” include? How broad is this exception? Unfortunately, America provides a bad example. The phrase “health of the mother” is a term-of-art in American constitutional law concerning abortion. It means that the mother may choose abortion for any physical, emotional, psychological, social, financial, or “family” reason she chooses. The effect, in America, is to permit abortion for any reason, throughout all nine months of pregnancy, as a matter of constitutional right.
This language is not in the U.S. Constitution, but comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, which created an unlimited right to abortion in America by using a trick definition of “health” in a companion decision, Doe v. Bolton. But the “health of the mother” language is in the proposed Constitution of Kenya. It is therefore very likely that this language may be interpreted by courts and government officials in Kenya as creating a right to abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy, after the fashion of America.
Third, the CoE’s new version explicitly provides that abortion may be made legal if “permitted by any other written law.” In other words, the constitutional right to life may be entirely nullified, simply by passing a new law, without changing the constitution. This means that the right to life is really no constitutional right at all.
Fourth, the exception for “emergency treatment” means something more than protecting the life or health of the mother. Otherwise, this language would have no effect. The CoE added this language. To what does “emergency treatment” refer, if not protecting life or health? A likely answer is that “emergency treatment” is code language for “emergency contraception” that works by producing an early abortion after conception has occurred.
There is one more provision of the current draft that further reinforces the right to abortion. Under Article 43 of the CoE’s latest version, “every person” has the constitutional right to “health care services, including reproductive health care.” In America, the phrase “reproductive health care” is polite language for abortion. In America, one of the debates over health care is whether abortion is truly “health care.” “Reproductive health care” is the code term that is used when abortion is what is meant.
Because Article 43 of the current draft appears to provide an affirmative right to “reproductive health” services, this language probably provides a social-welfare entitlement to publicly-provided or publicly-funded abortions. In short, the current draft provides a constitutional right to abortion, for any reason, throughout all nine months of pregnancy, paid for by all Kenyans.
These are dramatic changes from the earlier versions of the proposed constitution. Nothing like this was in any of the earlier drafts. Article 26 is a completely new invention. It completely undermines the right to life. Indeed, it produces its opposite. It creates a right to abortion.
This differs drastically from the version on which the public commented. It differs drastically from the PSC consensus at Naivasha. And it appears to have been beyond the CoE’s authority under the Constitution of Kenya Review Act of 2008. In short, it appears instead that the “experts” were advancing a pro-abortion agenda of their own and completely sabotaged the “right to life” favored by the people of Kenya. Because the scheme so closely resembles American pro-abortion law, one might reasonably conclude that American pro-abortion activists plotted with those in Kenya who favored abortion.
Whatever the source, the plot has succeeded so far. An amendment in Parliament failed (along with all other proposed amendments). The result is that the proposed Constitution of Kenya being submitted to the people of Kenya is a pro-abortion constitution.
Kenyan politicians and their allies in the press are seeking to downplay the pro-abortion character of the proposed constitution. The leading national newspaper of Kenya, when reporting on the provision at issue, ignores the dangerous subterfuge of the so-called “health” exception; indeed, the paper usually omits the phrase entirely, seeking to portray church leaders as extremists for opposing an exception to save a woman’s life. Further, they omit the fact that the transformed draft constitution would permit abortion if authorized by “any other law.” By quoting only half of the provision, the press is engaged in badly misleading reporting.
Politicians have sought to browbeat Kenyan Christian leaders into submission on this issue as well, misleadingly saying that the draft constitution merely reflects what is already in the penal code of Kenya. This misses the point entirely. The problem is that the new constitution would place a radical pro-abortion position into the fundamental law of the nation, contrary to the desires of the people. It would validate whatever pro-abortion laws politicians might wish to create. This has never before been the case. If the people of Kenya had their way, their new constitution would repudiate any and all such pro-abortion laws.
There are many provisions of the proposed constitution that many Kenyans find desirable. Constitutional reform has been long delayed and eagerly embraced. There are real costs to rejecting the proposed constitution. The political violence following the 2007 elections here – violence in which over a thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands lost their homes – testifies to an urgent need for reform and unity.
However, there are real dangers to swallowing a corrupted, pro-abortion constitution as the price of needed reform in other areas. The American experience has been that going down this path leads to the destruction of millions of innocent lives that would not otherwise have been lost, and accelerates social decay.
The people of Kenya will need to make their choice. If the constitution is rejected in the upcoming referendum, and if it is clear that the reason is the document’s pro-abortion provisions, one would hope and pray that Kenya would return to the draft and remove the sabotage that was the principal barrier to the constitution’s being adopted. In all events, however, the people of Kenya should be fully aware of how completely pro-abortion their new draft constitution is, and how badly it resembles all the worst features of America in this regard.