By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 14, 2009 ( – Details are scarce on the abortion position of Dr. Regina Benjamin, whom President Obama yesterday named to take over as Surgeon General in his administration.  While Catholic League president Bill Donohue has praised Obama's choice of the Catholic Benjamin, he also noted that Benjamin, as Surgeon General, will have the final say on whether Obama's healthcare reform package will mandate abortion coverage.

Benjamin, who won fame for her perseverance in rebuilding the small health clinic she established for Alabama's rural poor, serves or formerly served on the boards of multiple medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the Catholic Health Association.  A recipient of the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award from Pope Benedict XVI for her humanitarian work, Benjamin is widely considered a devout Roman Catholic. She has also received the National Caring Award, an honor which was inspired by Mother Teresa.

Retired Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile told the Catholic News Service that he was “delighted” by Benjamin's nomination, saying, “She is a person who has a great sense of responsibility and is authentic in her Catholicism.”

However, the New York Times report cites an associate of Benjamin's who says the Catholic doctor regularly distributes contraception, despite the Catholic Church's teaching against contraception. She is also a former board member of Physicians for Human Rights, a group that lobbies for the dismantling of pro-life laws around the world and the promotion of contraceptives,  although it is by no means clear if she supported those positions of the organization.

As for Dr. Benjamin's participation in abortion, the associate told the Times only that Benjamin's clinic did not have the facilities to perform abortions.

In 1996, Benjamin announced to the Associated Press that the AMA had adopted a policy of educating medical students about various issues pertaining to abortion, including abortion complications and abortion counseling. Some pro-life advocates have interpreted Benjamin's statement to mean that she was in favor of teaching medical students how to perform abortions. However, Benjamin did not indicate in her statement what her own position on the policy was, but was simply quoted as announcing that the AMA had voted to adopt the policy. “We are adopting a policy that medical school curriculum provide the legal, ethical, and psychological principles associated with abortion so students can learn all the factors involved,” Benjamin told the Associated Press at the time.

HHS spokeswoman Rebecca Adelman told that Dr. Benjamin would not be speaking to reporters until after her confirmation.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue yesterday congratulated Benjamin as an “excellent choice” for Surgeon General, but said Benjamin's new position will put her in the “hot seat” regarding the potential expansion of abortion embedded in Obama's fast-tracked healthcare reform package.

As Surgeon General, Benjamin will be in charge of the Health Benefits Advisory Committee, which the House Committees on Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Labor announced last month would be designated to decide which services will be covered in the nationalized healthcare plan.

“Dr. Benjamin should not wait until the Senate considers her appointment to let the public know where she stands,” said Donohue. 

“As a practicing Catholic, she cannot chair a committee that would support mandated abortion coverage in employer insurance plans. There is no 'common ground' on this issue.”


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