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House Panel Accuses Koop of Ignoring Medical Evidence on Safety of Abortion : Health: Former surgeon general calls charge 'ridiculous.' Six Republicans dissent from report's findings.

December 11, 1989|MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop ignored overwhelming medical evidence that abortion is safer than pregnancy and childbirth when he declined last January to write a report on the health effects of the procedure, a House subcommittee charged Sunday.

"I recognize the diversity of opinions regarding the morality of abortion under different circumstances, but those opinions must not be allowed to interfere with scientific research or with making information available to the public," said Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on human resources and intergovernmental relations, which released the report.

Koop, a staunch opponent of abortion, was asked in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan to study the physical and mental impact of abortion on women and write a report to the public. In January, 1989, he told Reagan in a letter that it was impossible to reach clear judgments on the subject because the scientific evidence was inconclusive.

But the Weiss subcommittee said that transcripts of 27 confidential meetings between Koop and pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates, subpoenaed by the subcommittee, reveal that Koop had stated on several occasions that legal abortion was safer than pregnancy and childbirth and poses no public health risks to women's mental or physical health.

Further, the subcommittee said, Koop reviewed research on the medical impact of abortion that confirmed its safety, and a draft report--which was never issued--concluded that "abortion does not pose a physical risk to the mother."

"In contrast, (he) . . . contradicted those views by claiming that the impact of abortion on women's health was not yet scientifically established," the subcommittee said.

Koop said in a telephone interview Sunday that he was surprised at the thrust of the Weiss report. He said he had made it quite clear, both in his letter to Reagan and in public comments, that abortions are overwhelmingly safe.

"The thing that was important (to document) was the psychological problems," he said, "and I said at the time that there was abundant anecdotal evidence on the psychological impact, but no scientific evidence."

Koop criticized Weiss for issuing such a report at this time, calling it "very old news."

"I don't know what his point is," the former surgeon general said. "Anything in the report that says we had information that we didn't give is ridiculous. Anything that I would have dished out would have been opposite to his ideology, so I don't know what he wants.

"There was no point to concentrating on a medical report when it's been proven that abortions are medically safe," he said.

Six Republican members of the full 38-member Government Operations committee joined in dissenting from the report released by Weiss. Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.), ranking Republican on the subcommittee, called the report "a misleading and inaccurate picture of abortion issues," and said it "misconstrues" statements made by Koop.

The former surgeon general, Armey said, "explicitly disavowed" his connection with the draft abortion report.

Further, Armey said he had "extraordinary difficulty" understanding how a "serious examination can be conducted on the health effects of abortion without also examining the health consequences incurred by the pre-born child."

He said the subcommittee could not "ignore the central questions of whether or not life begins at conception, and whether or not pre-born children should be accorded certain rights of protection." This, he said, was an "essential element" toward understanding the psychological impact of abortion on women.

The subcommittee report also charged the federal government with failing to fund contraceptive research that it said "is necessary to decrease the 1.5 million abortions obtained by American women every year."

The subcommittee called on the federal government to increase research funds to develop "effective contraceptives and thus decrease the number of abortions." The report said that 11% of American women between the ages of 15 and 44 become pregnant every year, and more than half of these pregnancies are unintended. Half of the unintended pregnancies end in abortion, the report said.

The report said that last year the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development spent $9.5 million on contraceptive development, which, taking inflation into account, was a reduction of almost 50% compared to the $12 million spent in fiscal year 1980. Further, the report said, such funding could drop to as low as $5 million for fiscal 1990.

The subcommittee also accused the Reagan Administration of "censoring" scientific information on abortion collected by the Centers for Disease Control because it did not support an anti-abortion view. It recommended that the Department of Health and Human Services assure from now on that "federal research aimed at improving the public health is not censored."

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