US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, testifying in Congress, defended the right to abortion worldwide and the Obama administration's decision to finance family planning overseas.
Clinton stood her ground against Christopher Smith, a Republican lawmaker from New Jersey who strongly opposes abortion.
Smith, speaking during Clinton's first hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee since she became top diplomat, asked if President Barack Obama's team sought to influence African and South American countries on abortion.
"Congressman, I deeply respect your passionate concern and views which you have championed and advocated for over the course of your public career," Clinton told him.
"We, obviously, have a profound disagreement," the chief US diplomat said.
"When I think about the suffering that I have seen of women around the world, I've been in hospitals in Brazil where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies and the other half were fighting for their lives against botched abortions," said Clinton.
"I've been in African countries where 12 and 13-year-old girls are bearing children. I have been in Asian countries where the denial of family planning consigns women to lives of oppression and hardship," she added.
"It is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so anywhere in the world, and so are we," she said.
"We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women's health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare," Clinton added.
"I've spent a lot of my time trying to bring down the rate of abortions and it has been my experience that good family planning and good medical care brings down the rate of abortion," the secretary of state said.
"Keeping women and men in ignorance and denied the access to services actually increases the rate of abortion."
The administration of former president George W. Bush, who was deeply opposed to abortion and contraception, financed campaigns promoting abstinence, especially in Africa, during his eight-year presidency.
Another Republican lawmaker, Jeffrey Fortenberry of Nebraska, joined the fray when he said "I don't believe we should use American foreign policy to export abortion.
"This will undermine, in my view, our foreign relations in many areas throughout the world, including Latin America and Africa and among Muslim peoples," Fortenberry said.
However, Clinton stood firm.
"We have for eight years followed the policy that you have described," the chief diplomat said.
"And I think we've gone backwards. We've gone backwards in the real, genuine care that we have given to women," she said.
The former first lady of the United States recalled that during her time in the White House during the 1990s, she had launched a stop-teenage-pregnancy campaign, particularly with information on contraception and abortion.
"I'm sad to report that after an administration of eight years that undid so much of the good work, the rate of teenage pregnancy is going up," she said.