Pro-life groups were gaga for such a study, and it’s not hard to see why. Proof of abortion’s negative side effects–if such effects existed–would both discourage women from undergoing the procedure and also fuel lawsuits against abortion providers. And in the long run, such evidence could serve as a key device for overturning Roe v. Wade. But despite his personal views, Koop felt pro-lifers had gone on a fishing expedition. In a letter to Reagan declining to produce the desired report, Koop wrote, “the scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women.” In congressional testimony, Koop added that psychological risks from abortion are “miniscule from a public health perspective.” Conservative Caucus chair Howard Phillips called Koop’s refusal to produce a report “contemptible,” but the surgeon general countered, “if I had put out the kind of report that was not scientific…it would have been attacked and destroyed by scientists and statisticians.” As Koop put it: “I’m the nation’s surgeon general, not the nation’s chaplain.”
Chris Mooney, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and author of the Weblog www.chriscmooney.com, is writing a book about conservatives and science.