HANOVER, NH, February 27, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pro-life leaders are expressing heartfelt sorrow at the death of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at his home in Hanover, New Hampshire, at the age of 96.

Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest called him “a pro-life giant."

"He saw the issues of abortion and infanticide for what they were, assaults on the civil rights of the most vulnerable of human beings,” she said. Dr. Koop joined AUL's board in the 1970s.

A renowned pediatric surgeon, Dr. Koop founded the nation's first neonatal surgical intensive care unit in 1956 and is credited with pioneering techniques that are still saving lives today. He was the first editor of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.

During the '70s and early 1980s, he helped energize evangelicals about the issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. CareNet crisis pregnancy centers, established by Harold O.J. Brown in 1975, were profoundly influenced by Koop's work. In 1976, he published the book The Right to Live, the Right to Die. Three years later the doctor, a Presbyterian, collborated with Dr. Francis Schaeffer on their 1979 book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and a series of accompanying short films.

Although Roman Catholics had opposed abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, evangelicals – who would come to play a defining role in pro-life politics – were late to recognize the moral implications of abortion-on-demand.

Foy Valentine, who headed the Southern Baptist's Christian Life Commission at the time, favored the legalization of abortion and reportedly fought pro-life movements within the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Dr. Richard Land, Valentine's successor at what is now known as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has written, “Everyone devoted to the pro-life cause owes an incalculable debt of gratitude” to Dr. Koop.

His book “was a call to action for anyone who cared about the value and dignity of human life, but most especially the evangelical community,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “To this day, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is a must-read for its almost prophetic anticipation of the world we live in today.”

Dr. Koop wrote in his book:

If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.

However, the doctor is best known as Ronald Reagan's Surgeon General from 1982-89. During confirmation hearings liberals, led by Senator Ted Kennedy, assaulted his views and demanded that he not use his post to promote the Christian faith – a vow Koop took, and kept.

As Surgeon General, he disappointed some of his former colleagues in the movement. Near the end of his tenure in 1989, he declined to produce a report on the psychological harms of abortion on the grounds that most of the studies produced at that point did not withstand scientific scrutiny.

As the leading public health official during the outbreak of the AIDS crisis, Dr. Koop – who opposed homosexuality – urged increased sex education in public schools.

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He pioneered “safe sex” tactics in the pamphet “Understanding AIDS,” the largest mass mailing in the history of public health. Phyllis Schlafly and Howard Phillips derided his advocacy of condom use as “safe sodomy.”

Some remember Koop's shortfalls all-too vividly.

John Lofton, the former editor of Conservative Digest and a columnist for The Washington Times, wrote, “Koop was, alas, one more Christian who took a top U.S. government job and then abandoned his faith-based views. In private life, Koop was a fierce advocate of the anti-abortion, pro-life cause. But, as U.S. Surgeon General he said nothing about the mass murders of the unborn by abortion (a 'public health' problem if ever there was one); and he promoted 'safe-sex' condom use and 'sex education.'”

Nonetheless, most remember a doctor whose career and private life were dedicated to promoting and preserving innocent life.

“Tragically, his piercing question, ‘whatever happened to the human race?’ continues to haunt the conscience of a nation where abortion on demand remains the law of the land, and campaigns for assisted suicide and euthanasia continue,” Dr. Yoest said. “He will be greatly missed.”