Over the last few weeks, Congress has rightly been focused on President Barack Obama’s horrible deal with Iran. The president proposes to bolster Iranian finances, has made no significant inroads on halting Iran’s nuclear program, and would leave four American hostages behind in Iran. Congress also has before it another significant foreign policy crisis: federal funding of Planned Parenthood.
Continued federal funding of Planned Parenthood will significantly weaken the ability of the United States to effectively conduct foreign policy. A cornerstone of American engagement overseas has been the promotion of human rights. Our country entered World War I in part to make the word safe for democracy, as President Woodrow Wilson explained. The United States’ agenda in Word War II included promoting President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of global human rights centered around his Four Freedoms. This advocacy was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations, which was supposed to be in the vanguard of defending human rights.
In more recent times, President Gerald Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which in part emphasized the importance of human rights. The Soviet Union signed it too, and unwittingly began the process of ending communism behind the Iron Curtain. The United States would use the agreement to monitor and promote human rights in the Soviet bloc, helping to unleash human freedom and democratic impulses that would topple tyranny in the Warsaw Pact. President Jimmy Carter was skillful in his use of human rights to advance American foreign policy. His focus was clear when he affirmed that American foreign policy, “is rooted in our moral values, which never change.”
President Ronald Reagan used the Helsinki Accords and respect for the individual to help demonstrate the inadequacies of the Soviet Union and its allies to meet the basic human desire for liberty and to live in accord with natural law. He successfully contrasted the respect for human rights and dignity with the lack of both in the Soviet sphere. That comparison, and the desire of those repressed by communism for freedom and liberty, directly facilitated the end of communism in the Soviet Union and its satellites.
President George H.W. Bush would highlight Iraq’s atrocious human rights record to rally global support to liberate Kuwait, and President Clinton would emphasize the value in defending human rights to promote peace in Bosnia. President George W. Bush also emphasized Iraq’s shameful human rights record as a reason for toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein. President Bush eloquently added to the canon of human rights in American foreign policy in his 2003 State of the Union address to Congress:
“The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad. The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests. Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life.”
President Obama has repeatedly cited human rights as central to his foreign policy, such as it is. Ambassador Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, explained that “[a]dvancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to our foreign policy. It is what our history and our values demand, but it’s also profoundly in our interests.”
History is clear that one of the most consistent, compelling, and effective components of American foreign policy is the respect for the inherent dignity of human life as the basis for nurturing freedom. If the United States continues to fund Planned Parenthood, we will dramatically destabilize this pillar of our foreign policy. We cannot credibly tell other states to reform their human rights abuses when we fail to honor the rights of the unborn at home.
Our diplomats cannot credibly urge less free states to be more like us in the sphere of human rights. If Planned Parenthood is funded by Congress, we lose a fundamental leverage point in our diplomatic negotiations with states. No longer will the United States be able to effectively tell other states that they need to reform their domestic human rights agenda in exchange for what they want from us at the negotiating table.
One can imagine a scene where an American official tells a foreign government to reform their human rights at home to make it more like human rights in the United States. The foreign diplomat can easily respond by saying, “your government funds an organization that butchers babies and sells their body parts. Tell me more about how great America’s record is on human rights! We have seen the videos. Let’s put aside your criticism of our human rights record until you stop funding a domestic American genocide.”
Funding Planned Parenthood permits that organization to carry out abortion on a massive scale in the United States. The release of the Planned Parenthood videos has every member of the House and the Senate on notice about the gruesome procedures the federal government is funding. It also has foreign governments watching to see if we will continue to uphold the centrality of human rights to civil society. We have promoted that notion abroad. The world is watching to see if the values we have promoted abroad will be honored here at home.
Planned Parenthood extinguishes life in womb, life outside of the womb, and sells baby parts. If Planned Parenthood continues to receive the financial support and thus the imprimatur of Congress, our shining city on a hill will lose much of its brightness. Our adversaries and our allies in diplomacy will take note and make use of our contradictions.
Neil Siefring is president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. His views and opinions are his own. Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilSiefring