An American non-profit organisation involved in maternal health asked Hillary Clinton when she was US secretary of state to push Kenyan authorities into allowing favourable laws on abortion.
In a series of emails made public on Tuesday by the State Department, Planned Parenthood petitioned Mrs Clinton to use her planned visit to Nairobi in 2009 to ask leaders to support a Constitution that would favour abortion.
As President Obama’s secretary of state, Mrs Clinton travelled to Nairobi in August 2009 as part of the seven-nation trip that mainly focused on trade and support for the fight against terrorism.
She also visited South Africa, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia and Cape Verde.
But Planned Parenthood, an organisation that claims to have “promoted a common-sense approach to women’s health and well-being” for over 100 years, asked Mrs Clinton to use the Nairobi tour to rally against anti-abortion laws.
“Kenya is re-starting a long-stalled constitutional review process and they hope to produce a final Constitution by next year. Religious groups are on a concerted crusade to include new language in the Constitution which would codify that “life begins at conception,” wrote the organisation’s Vice-President Laurie Rubiner in a July 2009 email to Mrs Clinton.
At the time, Kenya was writing a new Constitution, which would later be promulgated in August 2010.
But in the email sent to Mrs Clinton’s private email address, Ms Rubiner called the then US top diplomat a “hero” and asked her to help tame the Church position on abortion in Kenya.
Ms Rubiner referred to a 2004 case in which a gynaecologist, Dr John Nyamu, and two nurses was arrested and charged with murder after 15 foetal remains were found near a clinic where he worked.
The three were later acquitted for lack of evidence even though they had spent a year in jail for what activists had argued should have been procured abortion, rather than murder.
“If this foetal personhood amendment goes forward, it would place Kenya in the small community of nations with such a provision. It would clearly mark Kenya as out of step with countries attempting to institutionalise the African Union’s Maputo Protocol,” the Planned Parenthood boss wrote.
She was referring to an AU agreement passed in Mozambique in 2003 to guarantee rights to women, including political participation, social equality and control of their reproductive health.
Kenya signed and ratified the agreement in 2010, after the Constitution was promulgated.
But the politics behind passing the Constitution had seen religious leaders take on pro-abortion activists.
Planned Parenthood had used several tactics to ensure anti-abortion clauses were removed.
They unsuccessfully sponsored local activists to defeat the Constitution.
The email to Mrs Clinton was answered by her aide Huma Abedin, who argued that though Mrs Clinton’s mission was not related to health issues, the message would be forwarded to embassy staff in Nairobi to see if they could handle it.
The email, which is not a subject of the controversy surrounding Mrs Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, also indicates the kind of influence the US had on the debate on the draft Constitution.
For example, Ms Rubiner tells Mrs Clinton that a congressional delegation, composed of pro-abortion US lawmakers, visited Nairobi around the same time and Planned Parenthood lobbied them to discuss the abortion issue.
“Of course we would be happy to help you in any way if you decide you want to do something on this while you are there.”
Despite the heat over the issue, the Constitution was passed with some sort of balance.
The current document states that life begins at conception and although it outlaws abortion, it allows the termination of a pregnancy in cases of a health emergency as determined by a health professional.
Mrs Clinton’s visit at the time was also preceded by comments from then Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who called on the West to stop lecturing the country on reforms.
When she arrived in Kenya, she talked about corruption and the urgent need for reforms after the disputed 2007 elections.
In turn, Mr Odinga changed tune, telling the audience to “learn” from the US instead.
But in a later email forwarded to her from the US mission in Nairobi, Mrs Clinton was told of how the then Ambassador Michael Ranneberger had been summoned and given a dressing down after the whistle-blower website Wikileaks published a report indicating he had reported to Washington on how Kenya was still soaked in corruption.
Mrs Clinton, now a top presidential contender in the Democratic Party, has been riding a storm after it emerged she conducted official business using private email accounts while she served as secretary of state.
She initially argued that she did not send classified information using the private accounts.
However, emails already published by the State Department have some content redacted, indicating the sensitivity of the information they carried.
In May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered the State Department to release a timetable within which all the batches of emails will be made public between June and early 2016.
Ms Clinton has defended her record at the State Department:
“My use of personal email was allowed by the State Department. It clearly wasn’t the best choice. ... I take responsibility for that decision,” she said last week at one of her campaign rallies.