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Conviction and controversy

"Conviction and controversy" Continued...

Issue: "Moneymaker," March 23, 2013

Many in the pro-life movement were appalled that Koop would propose any compromise that would still involve the deliberate death of a child. 

Another complaint concerned a report on the health effects of abortion on women requested by Reagan for Koop to research for the president’s private review. 

After prolonged study, Koop submitted his findings to the president in a letter delivered to the White House. It concluded, “I regret, Mr. President, in spite of a diligent review on the part of many in the PHS [Public Health Service] and in the private sector, the scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women.”

Someone leaked the letter to the press before Reagan received it. Reports circulated immediately, announcing, “Koop says abortion does not harm women.”

It was one of several controversial pronouncements, as Koop published groundbreaking reports on the hazards of tobacco use, on infanticide, and on the emerging epidemic of HIV/AIDS. “My whole career had been dedicated to prolonging lives ... especially the lives of people who were weak and powerless, the disenfranchised who needed an advocate: newborns who needed surgery, handicapped children, unborn children [and] people with AIDS.”

Koop resigned in 1989, and he and his wife, Betty, returned to Philadelphia, where he puttered in business ventures, charitable work, and writing. In 1995 President Bill Clinton awarded him the Medal of Freedom. 

Betty became seriously ill, and the couple moved to Hanover, N.H., where she died in 2007. Three years later, Koop married Cora Hogue, director of adult education at Tenth Presbyterian. 

At age 93 he entered the public arena again, this time as a vocal opponent of Obamacare, with videotaped spots of his own testimonial: “I’m 93 and thank God for every year. I’m here with two artificial joints, two pacemakers to keep my heart in rhythm, as well as a stent to keep my coronaries open,” he said, noting that in other countries with nationalized healthcare, he would be “considered too old and the cost to the state too high.”

The spots were widely redistributed, showing again, as Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson pointed out upon his death, that Koop was perhaps the only U.S. Surgeon General whom Americans will readily remember.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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