WASHINGTON -- The culture war is breaking out in American foreign policy. And the main culture warrior is not a ranting televangelist but America's secretary of state.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, as host of June's G-8 meeting in Ontario, has been preparing an initiative to reduce maternal mortality in poor nations. At first, his government implied that neither contraception nor abortion would be part of the proposal. Under pressure, Harper's foreign affairs minister later clarified that the plan "doesn't deal with abortion," but "it doesn't exclude contraception."
Last month, during a political controversy in Canada on the issue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at a news conference in Quebec. "I've worked in this area for many years," she said. "And if we're talking about maternal health, you cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion."
The Toronto Star described this as a "grenade in the lap of her shell-shocked Canadian hosts."
Clinton's search for a fight on this issue is not the recent norm. Increased development assistance to improve global health has been one of the bipartisan achievements of the last decade -- an exception to Washington's general bitterness. Millions are taking AIDS drugs, sleeping under anti-malarial bed nets and getting treatment for tropical diseases because ideology has not been allowed to sabotage good will.
But the political alliance on this issue has always been fragile. Traditionally liberal advocates of global health spending have worked in uneasy alliance with conservatives -- mainly non-libertarian social conservatives -- who hold a moral view of America's role in the world. This is the Bono-Bush coalition that passed and then reauthorized the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) -- an initiative that intentionally avoided the issue of abortion in order to prevent infighting among its wildly diverse supporters.