In Advance of Obama Visit, Kenyan Government Agents Tear Down Billboard
In response to President Obama’s visit to Kenya next week, we were informed that agents of the Kenyan government tore down—without explanation—a billboard we had placed legally on Chiromo Road. The billboard was sponsored by the international organization Catholics for Choice in partnership with Reproductive Health Services Kenya. Both groups were greatly concerned about the Helms Amendment, an American policy that puts the health, welfare and lives of Kenyan women at risk. The billboard called on President Obama and his administration to act now—after six and a half years of inaction—to revise this cruel and unjust policy.
As it is currently interpreted, the Helms Amendment acts as a complete ban on using US foreign assistance for any abortion care or counseling options for pregnancy. In practice, this prevents women in Kenya and around the world from following their conscience and getting the reproductive care they need. With a wave of his hand, President Obama could do the right thing for countless women by clarifying this dangerous interpretation.
“We were proud to join with the international organization Catholics for Choice because, as medical physicians caring for the people of Kenya, we know how this unjust American policy can interfere with the medical care and treatment we need to provide for the Kenyan people,” said Dr. John Nyamu, the executive director of Reproductive Health Services Kenya. “We acted in the best democratic tradition of raising issues in a constructive way in the hopes that President Obama would find the compassion to listen to the voices of Kenyan medical experts who are too aware of how the Helms Amendment can tie the hands of those of us working at the frontlines for women’s health and reproductive justice.”
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “For the past six and a half years, I have joined, time and time again, colleagues from all over the world in meetings with key officials in the Obama administration. 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. In the remaining time that Obama is in office, we have a duty as citizens of the world to continue to bring this cruel, unnecessary and downright harmful policy to his attention. A very simple clarification 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.”
Catholics for Choice and Reproductive Health Services Kenya will continue in other ways to campaign for Obama to do the right thing and clarify the Helms policy. Advertisements are scheduled to appear in three Kenyan newspapers: the East African Standard, the Daily Nation and The Nairobian.