Claire Brown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, has a deep concern about the environment and wildlife. For many years, she has been a steady contributor to the National Wildlife Federation and a frequent supporter of the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

She is also prolife. So when she discovered this summer that these groups are lobbying in Congress against prolife legislation she supports, she was shocked and dismayed. “I felt personally betrayed,” she told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “I’d like to help [these groups] out, but I can’t understand an organization that supports animal life and yet has, from what I can gather, little regard for human life. I think this is outside their charter,” she said.

A growing number of persons who are prolife shares Brown’s concerns. “Several major environmental organizations have become increasingly active in promoting proabortion policies on the federal level,” said National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “Many Americans who support the Bush administration’s prolife policies are unknowingly contributing to environmental organizations that lobby to nullify those policies,” he added. While some environmental groups acknowledge their support of abortion—support based mainly on concerns of overpopulation—other groups say the NRLC is “inaccurate” in its claims.

The controversy is likely to come to a head this month as Congress debates the Foreign Aid Appropriations Bill. At issue will be two measures that the NRLC says make up “the most important antiabortion policy of the Reagan years”: the Mexico City Policy and the Kemp/Kasten Amendment.

The Mexico City Policy, announced by Ronald Reagan in 1984, prohibits the U.S. government’s family-planning program from funding organizations that campaign for legalized abortion internationally or promote abortion “as a method of family planning” in foreign countries.

The Kemp/Kasten Amendment, enacted in 1985, prohibits U.S. family-planning dollars to any group that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The primary loser under the amendment has been the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which supported China’s population program that includes compulsory abortion. Neither of these measures cuts any money from the total U.S. family-planning budget; both merely redirect funds to programs that can comply with the regulations.

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Environmental Arguments

The Sierra Club has been candid about its stand. Last year, the 450,000-member group filed a brief using environmental arguments to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its 1973 decision legalizing abortion. “If abortion were not an option, the strains on the environment would be even greater,” the brief said. The group’s official position is that abortion is “an acceptable means of controlling population growth.”

Other groups deny they are supporting abortion. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), which claims 5.6 million members, has not taken a position on abortion in any of its resolutions. However, the group has endorsed a bill that, in effect, would overturn the Mexico City Policy.

“We want to safeguard the right of consultation between a woman and her doctor about her condition, especially in life-threatening cases,” said NWF’s chief executive officer, Jay D. Hair, in a written statement to CHRISTIANITY TODAY. “The International Family Planning Act seeks to correct these deficiencies currently present in the Mexico City Policy.” Hair further said that NWF supports modification of the policy to ensure that “any funding restrictions applied abroad are consistent with those imposed in the U.S. reflecting fundamental rights of privacy and federal law governing family planning services provided in this country.”

Hair denied their “right to privacy” provision is a covert prochoice plank. “It deals with the right to freedom of speech between a woman and her physician … in cases where the woman’s life is in danger,” he said. The NRLC’s Johnson says this is a “duplicitous” response. “The Mexico City Policy in no way interferes with any ‘medical service’ other than abortion,” he said. “Moreover, the Mexico City Policy has always included an explicit exception which permits organizations to provide abortion counseling, referrals, or even actual abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest,” he said.

The NWF also supports resumption of funds to UNFPA because, Hair said, “cutting off the funds for effective family-planning organizations like UNFPA denies desperately needed birth control services to women in developing countries.” Hair added that his group would like to see restrictions retained on the funds going to “involuntary sterilizations or to coerce any person to accept family planning.” He said their involvement in family-planning issues stems from the organization’s concern about population growth and the “additional pressures on natural resources and the environment.”

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The National Audubon Society, while also asserting it “does not take a position for or against abortion,” has been involved in lobbying campaigns against the Mexico City Policy and the Kemp/Kasten Amendment. The organization was unable to provide a spokesperson to comment on its stand for CT, but in a letter to a member, the group supported overturning the antiabortion language because it “adds nothing” to previous family-planning laws.

Johnson reiterated that the NRLC has “no position” on family planning. “We have no problem with organizations that are supporting family planning, but we do have a problem with those that are calling for the removal of the antiabortion conditions that currently govern funding,” he said. The NRLC has released a list of environmental groups that are not involved in “proabortion lobbying.” Included on the NRLC list are the Conservation Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, National Parks and Conservation Association, Trout Unlimited, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Caught In A Touchy Spot

Many Christian environmentalists feel caught in a touchy situation with the debate. Dave Mahan, associate director of the AuSable Institute, said that although he is opposed to abortion, he is also uncomfortable with the issue being brought up in the environmental context. “Overpopulation is a significant concern in many parts of the world, and it is having serious environmental effects,” he said. “Christians need to face that.”

Mahan said he fears tying in abortion and family planning may cause Christians to walk away from all international family-planning efforts. “As Christians, we have a responsibility in helping support people who want to practice family planning, but in methods that we would agree with,” he said. “And we must promote those [methods] within the environmental organizations that we support.” Mahan opposes wholesale pullouts from environmental groups because of the abortion issue, and points to the American Bar Association’s reversal of a prochoice stance as an example of the effectiveness of working for change from within. “To me, nobody has a higher calling than Christians to protect all forms of life,” he said.

The issue is expected to be a politically contentious one again this fall. Last year, President Bush vetoed a foreign-assistance bill that contained resumed funding for the UNFPA. He is likely to do the same this year if either the Kemp/Kasten Amendment or the Mexico City Policy is overturned by Congress.

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