It looks like the issue of abortion has taken center stage in the debate over constitutional reform in Kenya. Although the updated draft of the constitution still unfortunately maintains a legal ban on abortion, conservative Christian organizations are causing a ruckus over the exception for a mothers life. Apparently, protecting the health of women, in any circumstance, is against their religious beliefs. Furthermore, despite the fact that 60% of the public approves of the new draft, Kenya’s powerful churches are standing in the way of constitutional reform.

Yet local Christians say the provision for abortion, even in emergency circumstances, is antithetical to their beliefs. And they have received a kind of hallelujah chorus from likeminded conservative Christian groups in the US, including Rev. Pat Robertson’s group, the American Center for Law and Justice.

“It opens the door to abortion on demand, which is why Christian organizations who are pro-life are so opposed to that provision,” Jordan Sekulow, international director for ACLJ, told the Associated Press in an interview earlier this year.

In Nairobi, and throughout the country, religious activists have started a leaflet campaign to winnow away support for the draft constitution. One letter, signed by senior Pentacostalist church leaders, says, “we shall not endorse a constitution that has grossly overlooked justice and concerns persistently raised but ignored by the review organs for the warning in the Bible is very clearly recorded in Exodus 21:2 – ‘Do not follow the crowd in wrong doing. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.’ ”

Delaying the new constitution is pretty problematic for the survival of the country, especially considering the recent outbreak of violence that materialized out of frustration with corruption in the election process. Of course, I wouldn’t expect fundamentalist Christian organizations to put the health of the country over their own ideological agenda.

Two years after mob violence killed nearly 1,300 Kenyans and forced 300,000 others from their homes – in the wake of an election that appeared to be deeply flawed and manipulated by Kenyan politicians who had extraordinary powers over the judiciary and the supposedly independent electoral commission – many Kenyans say that passing a new constitution is necessary for the country’s very survival.

And it gets even worse. Three U.S. congressmen (Republicans of course) have banded together to request an audit of U.S. government funds to Kenya in hopes of preventing constitutional reform. The justification: to prevent the ratification of a constitution that would quote, “encourage Kenyan women to have abortions.” Because apparently allowing any exception in the case of a mother’s health would open the floodgates to an abortion frenzy.

In their May 6 letter to the US State Department’s acting Inspector General, a copy of which has been obtained by the Monitor, Rep. Chris Smith (R) of New Jersey, Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida requested an audit of US government funds on the basis of a US law that states that “none of the funds made available under this Act may be used to lobby for or against abortion.”

The lawmakers’ efforts come amid an initiative by powerful Kenyan churches to battle what religious leaders see as an opening to abortion.

Jeffrey Gettleman at the New York Times calls this one of the latest battles in the American culture wars currently underway in Africa.