By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 15, 2009 ( – A White House spokesman appears to have settled confusion on the position of Surgeon General nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin by saying that the doctor, though widely considered a devout Roman Catholic, supports President Obama's agenda on abortion.

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said in a Miami Herald report yesterday that Benjamin “supports the president's position on reproductive health issues.” Earlier this year Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explicitly confirmed that for the Obama administration the term “reproductive health” includes abortion.

Cherlin added that Benjamin also aligns with Obama's position on seeking “common ground” on abortion “to try and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.”

The New York Times also recently reported that an associate of Benjamin's said the Catholic doctor regularly distributes contraception, despite the Catholic Church's teaching against contraception.

Benjamin's reputation for being a devout Catholic stems in part from the fact that she is a past recipient of the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award from Pope Benedict XVI for her humanitarian work. She has also received the National Caring Award, an honor which was inspired by Mother Teresa. When Benjamin's nomination was announced, Catholic League president Bill Donohue welcomed the doctor as an “excellent choice” for surgeon general. Donohue has not yet commented since the White House commented on Benjamin's position on abortion.

However, not everyone is convinced by the White House's statement. Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, on the board of which Benjamin has served, stated in response, ”We have an outstanding woman with a great heart for the dignity of people at all stages of life who has been active in her church and recognized by her local archbishop.

“Her public and private statements on the dignity of life have always been consistent with church teaching.”

Benjamin herself will not be available to comment on her own position until after the confirmation proceedings have concluded, according to one Health and Human Services spokeswoman.

President Obama prefaced his introduction of Dr. Regina Benjamin yesterday with a lengthy endorsement of the healthcare reform package, and described Dr. Benjamin as someone “who understands the urgency” of nationalized healthcare.

As Surgeon General, Benjamin will head up the Health Benefits Advisory Committee, which is designated to decide which services will be covered in the nationalized healthcare plan.  This evidently would give Benjamin the final say on whether the basic coverage in the new plan will include abortion. 

Pro-lifers fear the bill's implicit inclusion of abortion coverage is bound to trigger a landslide of abortion funding de-regulation across the United States.  The National Right to Life Committee, as well as leading pro-life Congressman Chris Smith, have warned private and public insurers would be forced to match the federal plan in abortion coverage, and healthcare providers would be required to provide more access to the procedure.

See related coverage:

Catholic League Praises Obama's Choice for Surgeon General, but Details on Abortion Position Murky

The Silent FOCA: Vast Abortion Expansion Slowly Coming to Light in Healthcare Package


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