"We Know What Our Lord Thinks about Wishy-Washy, Lukewarm People": Chris Smith Is Ready to Tell You

By Puchir, Kim | Conscience, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

"We Know What Our Lord Thinks about Wishy-Washy, Lukewarm People": Chris Smith Is Ready to Tell You


Puchir, Kim, Conscience


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"FOR THE MOST PART IN CONGRESS, the name of the game is compromise, but Chris Smith is not one to compromise," said Jo Blum, former vice president for government relations at the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, now NARAL Prochoice America. The Republican politician has stuck to the same unwaveringly conservative trajectory for the last three decades in the service of his New Jersey constituents and rigid antichoice ideology--not necessarily in that order. In a 2007 speech, Mr. Smith characterized a list of prochoice legislation as the "screaming lack" of morality and came down against "moral relativism." Though the representative from New Jersey's 4th district makes no such distinctions when he speaks, there is actually a difference between taking a moral stance on an issue, and cornering the only possible moral stance. Unraveling Smith's carefully woven fabric of religious references and human rights-like language reveals that, on at least one occasion, the Congressman has been caught wearing no clothes.

Some of the most lasting harm caused by Smith's antichoice activities stemmed

from his instrumental role in blocking funds to the United Nations Population Fund (v N FPA) because he said that it "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization." These claims have been debunked by several research teams, but Smith was able to keep the UNFPA associated with wrongdoing in enough legislators' minds to block funding for fiscal year 2000. Besides the impact upon the provision of reproductive healthcare in some of the poorest countries in the world, the maneuver proved the utility of what the congressman referred to as his "tourniquet strategy" in a speech in Vatican City. "By linking prolife initiatives to 'must pass' legislation, or something the Administration thinks it needs, like the UN arrearages, we have restored numerous bans on abortion funding," he said in 2000, though the tactic is eerily similar to the Republican hijacking of the 2011 budget negotiations.

Smith continues to cling to allegations disproven ten years ago--this February he said in Congress that the UNFPA is "an organization that has made the Chinese killing machine more efficacious and lethal"--perhaps seeking to influence another generation of legislators. He has picked up some new strategies along the way, however. The bill he is currently promoting, "The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" or H.R. 3, threatens abortion rights not by going for the jugular--by a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade--but more like death by a thousand cuts. A May 10 New York Times editorial describes the bill as "driving to end abortion insurance coverage in the private market using the nation's tax system as a weapon." The legislation would wage a multi-prong attack on healthcare plans that include abortion coverage and tax credits for businesses that offer such plans, while permanently stripping federal abortion funding from all federal healthcare services, including Medicaid, Medicare and the Indian Health Service.

The co-chair of the Congressional Prolife Caucus has slightly more complicated views on reproductive rights than his OnTheIssues.org voting record--zero for prochoice, 100 in antichoice metrics--would suggest. Earlier this year, Smith caused public outcry with the "forcible rape" clause he included in H.R. 3 as a way of barring some women's access to abortion, specifically victims of statutory rape. Yet in a 1991 interview with the New York Times titled "Decade of Rep. Smith: Fluke to Tactician," the New Jersey representative showed more sensitivity to rape victims when he imagined them as one of his daughters. He said that if one of his own daughters were raped, he would advocate that she use "high estrogen therapy" to prevent pregnancy.

Within the reproductive choices available 20 years ago, the statement is unmistakably a reference to emergency contraception. …

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