At the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fielded questions from three congressmen who asked her about abortion.
New Jersey representative Chris Smith asked Clinton about her praise of Planned Parenthood founder and eugenicist Margaret Sanger at a Planned Parenthood awards banquet in Houston last month. He also asked her if "the United States' definition of the term reproductive health or reproductive services or reproductive rights includes abortion?"
Clinton punted on the Sanger question and instead offered a full-throated defense of international abortion rights. Clinton answered Smith's question about the "reproductive health" terminology directly, saying that "reproductive health includes access to abortion." While this isn't news, it does shed some light on President Obama's assertion in 2007 that "reproductive care" is "at the heart" of his health care plan.
When it was Nebraska congressman Jeff Fortenberry's turn, he followed up on Rep. Smith's Sanger question:
Your remarks last month, when you called Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, a person whom you enormously admire, were stunning to me. Margaret Sanger clearly embraced bigotry and racism. She advocated for the elimination of the disabled, the downtrodden and the black child. In one of her writings, she said, "Today eugenics is suggested by the most diverse minds as the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems." I don't believe these ideologies have a place in our pluralistic society. And you went on to say that you will use American foreign policy in your position to further reproductive rights, which includes abortion, across the globe.
Madame Secretary, I don't 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. 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 assault on the dignity especially of the poor and vulnerable. I believe women deserve better, women throughout the world deserve better.
In Clinton's response, she compared her admiration for Sanger to her admiration for Thomas Jefferson:
Well, Congressman, let me say with respect to your comments about Margaret Sanger, you know, I admire Thomas Jefferson. I admire his words and his leadership and I deplore his unrepentant slaveholding. 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 look at flawed human beings. There are things that we admire and things we deplore.
Lest we forget, Clinton didn't just say she found a few things to admire about Margaret Sanger. She said she admired "her vision." Margaret Sanger's campaign for contraception and abortion, as Sanger admitted, "is practically identical in ideal with the final aim of Eugenics." They were methods to achieve her ultimate aim.
As for Jefferson, he opposed slavery--as both John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln argued in their own times. The primary principle that animated his political thought, his vision, is the "self-evident" truth "that all men are created equal." The fact that he continued to own slaves until his death in 1826 is in many ways a contradiction of his political vision. It can be attributed partly to the selfishness described by Jefferson himself in his Notes on the State of Virginia, that "no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him." It can also be partly attributed to Jefferson's prudential judgment that a gradual emancipation combined with colonization would be preferable to the immediate emancipation of millions of free blacks into a virulently racist society. In any case, Clinton's comparison here doesn't hold up.
There was a bit of good news from the hearing, as Clinton reaffirmed her longstanding opposition to forced abortion and forced sterilization in China.
When she was asked a follow-up question by Rep. Smith, Clinton called the imbalance between girls and boys "a ticking demographic bomb that is going to explode within their society." Smith questioned Clinton about the administration's decision to send $50 million to the United Nations Population Fund, which has cooperated in the past with China's program of forced abortions and sterilizations. Clinton's response leaves room for hope:
I don't believe that there is any grounds for our being connected to any policy that supports [forced abortion or sterilization]. But I will look into the point that you made.