In January of 1989, U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who died on Monday at age 96, declined to personally prepare a report detailing the health effects of abortion, despite President Reagan’s request for material showing that abortion carried negative health effects. Koop, who opposed abortion himself, wrote in a letter to Reagan that after consulting scientific, medical, psychological, and public health experts, he determined that the alleged negative health effects of abortion were not nearly as conclusive as Reagan and his advisers had hoped for.
Later, in March of 1989, Koop went before a congressional hearing and explained that based on his research, he could not find enough evidence to evaluate the psychological effects of abortion on women. His findings and his previous refusal to even submit a report were major disappointments to Reagan and to conservatives who opposed abortion. The draft report, which was subpoenaed and made public though Koop never approved of it himself, encouraged more widespread contraceptive use, as well as more sex education and family life programs.
Prior to his nomination in 1981, Koop had had no formal public-health training; the devout Presbyterian had been working as a pediatric surgeon in Philadelphia. Impressively, Koop never used his post as Surgeon General to advance his religious ideology. Conversely, during an era in which the president would not even utter the word “AIDS,” Koop outright addressed homosexuality, intravenous drug use, anal sex, and condom use. Koop operated with a strictly medical focus, promoting education and awareness in spite of his personal conservative views.
How refreshing for a public figure to separate his personal convictions from scientific evidence. According to clinical research produced by the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, abortion is currently one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. Evidence taken from reputable contemporary studies show that abortions performed in our country in the first trimester are generally safe in the long term, posing little to no risk of cancer, fertility-related problems, or even psychological illnesses. In 1989, Koop bravely defied Reagan’s request to find evidence to infringe upon women’s right to privacy and we should acknowledge him for his commitment to health and safety.