Hanover, New Hampshire — Former United States Surgeon General and abortion opponent C. Everett Koop passed away Monday morning at his home in New Hampshire.
Koop was nominated as surgeon general in 1981 by then President Ronald Reagan after concluding a successful career as a pediatric surgeon. He became known as the first surgeon to separate twins that were conjoined at the heart, and also established the first-ever neonatal surgical intensive care unit. Koop performed thousands of operations to correct birth defects in newborn babies, and was considered a well-respected expert in the medical field.
However, because of his opposition to abortion, a number of members of Congress spoke against him during the confirmation process. Senator Edward Kennedy stated that Koop’s pro-life beliefs demonstrated that the nominee held to a “cruel, outdated and patronizing stereotype of women.” Pro-abortion groups also opposed his appointment, and an editorial in The New York Times called him “Dr. Unqualified.”
Nonetheless, Koop cleared the confirmation process and went on to become a household name across the nation. For most, Koop was recognized for his strong warnings against the consequences of smoking. After studying the link between heart disease, cancer and tobacco, he embarked on a mission to advise the public that smoking is hazardous to one’s health. Koop said that he became “plainly furious at the tobacco industry for attempting to obfuscate and trivialize this extraordinarily important public information.”
Yet, while he chose not to use his position as surgeon general to declare his opposition to abortion, he worked vigorously with respected theologian Francis Schaeffer to create a series of books and films decrying the practices of abortion and euthanasia. Koop outlined that, as a medical professional, he believed the “life of the mother” exception for abortion was unfounded.
“Protection of the life of the mother as an excuse for an abortion is a smoke screen. In my 36 years of pediatric surgery, I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life,” he said. “If toward the end of the pregnancy complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, the doctor will induce labor or perform a Caesarean section.”
“[The doctor’s] intention is to save the life of both the mother and the baby,” Koop continued. “The baby’s life is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger.”
Some evangelicals still chastised Koop, however, because of his support of sex education in schools and the advocacy of condom use. Homosexual groups likewise expressed disdain for his assertions that homosexual behavior could lead to the contraction of AIDS.
Looking back on his career, Koop later expressed regret for not being vocal against abortion during his tenure as U.S. Surgeon General. In his 1991 autobiography, Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor, he outlined that he did not realize that the Reagan administration expected him to specifically fight against the practice. He explained years later that while he opposed abortion, he had thought that the procedure was “safe,” and that it therefore could not be considered a health issue to fall within his department, but rather solely a moral concern.
In 2009, at age 92, he personally delivered a letter to Congress that outlined his views on the matter, urging them to ensure that public funds were never used for abortion procedures.
According to reports, Koop had been struggling with illness in his final days. Last week, his kidneys failed, and on Monday, he passed away at his home in Hanover. He was 96.