In the News 2015
The Independent - Kenya

Kenyan billboard critical of Obama’s stance on abortion ‘censored’ ahead of his important visit to the nation

A Catholic pro-choice group has said their billboard, critical of Barack Obama’s stance on abortion, has been taken down by the Kenyan government ahead of his important visit to the country.

The US-based group, Catholics for Choice, claim that “agents of the Kenyan government” had removed one of their billboards in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi before Obama’s visit to the country, the homeland of his father.

The billboard consisted of an image of the President, alongside the text ‘Kenyan women deserve better than 6 years of inaction, Mr President’, with the added message of ‘#HelmsHurts’.

The billboard is critical of the Helms Amendment, a US law that states: “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”

According to Catholics for Choice, and other pro-choice groups, despite the apparently limited scope of the Helms Amendement, it essentially acts as a complete ban on the use of American foreign aid for any abortion care or counselling options for pregancy.

It has faced criticism recently over claims that women in Iraq and Syria raped by Isis captors cannot get abortions, due to the effects of the amendment.

Catholics for Choice, which funded the billboard alongside Reproductive Health Services Kenya, says that the amendment has put “the health, welfare and lives of Kenyan women at risk”, and added that the billboard called on Obama to “revise this cruel and unjust policy”.

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, Dr John Nyuma, the executive director of Reproductive Health Services, said that the billboard company had informed him that Nairobi City Council had removed the billboard.

He also told the site that he believed that it was removed because the authorities wanted to avoid any prominent public criticism of the President ahead of the important visit.

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, said: “We know that the administration and President Obama are aware of how unjust the Helms Amendment is, but the strictest interpretation of the policy persists.”

“A very simple clarification [of the amendment] on paper would bring about profound change, not just for women in Kenya, but for women around the world.”

“We have a duty to speak truth to power—and that is the cornerstone of democratic society. We can only hope and pray that Obama will listen to voices of the people who suffer most when American policy is bad.”

Although the billboard is no longer on show in Nairobi, the campaign continues in different ways. The advert is due to appear in three Kenyan newspapers soon – the East African Standard, the Daily Nation, and The Nairobian.

This piece was originally published by The Independent.

Catholics for Choice