|U.S. Lawmakers Get Involved in Uruguayan Abortion Vote|
Associated Press, May 11, 2004
By Jim Abrams
Rep. Chris Smith says he hopes that he played a small part in stopping Uruguay from becoming the first Latin American nation besides Cuba to legalize abortion. Critics say he was meddling in the affairs of another country.
Smith, R-N.J., and five other anti-abortion House Republicans on April 30 sent letters to Uruguay's senators urging them not to "make the same costly mistake" America made 31 years ago and "legalize the violent murder of unborn children."
On May 5, the Uruguayan Senate rejected, by 17-13, the bill that, in addition to making abortion legal for women in the first trimester of pregnancy, would have promoted sex education, contraceptive distribution and maternal health care services. The bill had already passed Uruguay's House of Representatives.
No one is suggesting that Smith's letter changed the outcome of the Uruguay Senate vote, and even had it passed Jorge Batlle, president of the heavily Roman Catholic country, said he would veto it.
But one sponsor of the bill, Sen. Monica Xavier, said she had filed a complaint with the foreign ministry, and another lawmaker, Sen. Reynaldo Gargano, called the "an act of gross meddling."
Imagine, he told The Associated Press, "if we had sent a similar letter concerning the war on Iraq. ... This was totally improper."
"The letter was a flagrant involvement in another country's constitutional issues," said Angeles Cabria, senior program officer for Latin America at the International Women's Health Coalition. She cited figures showing that 63 percent of Uruguayans supported the legislation, and said the American lawmakers were "basically telling these senators to go against the will of their country."
Smith, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee, dismissed the criticism Monday, saying he regularly talks to foreign ministers and lawmakers from other countries on such issues as drug trafficking and torture. "Lawmakers have a duty to talk to each other on human rights."
He said it was also crucial to counter the efforts of pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood that approved of the legislation. "This was going to be their launching pad for abortion on demand in Latin America," he said.
But Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., an abortion rights leader, said that in her 18 years in Congress she has never received a letter from a foreign lawmaker telling her how to vote on an issue. She said what also bothered her was the suggestion, because America wields so much power around the world, that "if you don't do this you'll be sorry."
Also signing the letter were Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Todd Akin, R-Mo., Steve King, R-Iowa, Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Joseph Pitts, R-Pa.
This article appeared in the Miami Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Newsday, The Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Diego Union Tribune, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, The Guardian (UK), and CNN International. Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.