The Embattled Career of Dr. Koop

In three decades of surgery at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, C. Everett Koop pioneered techniques that saved the lives of premature and malformed babies. Meanwhile, in another wing of the hospital an abortion clinic opened, capable of eliminating 10 to 15 lives in the time it took Koop to save 1 or 2. Abortion increasingly became for Koop a simple, black-and-white issue. When he finally spoke out on abortion, he spoke with conviction, calling the Roe v. Wade ruling “the most important event in American history since the Civil War.”
For a time Koop even suspended his brilliant career in pediatric surgery to go on the stump with L’Abri founder Francis Schaeffer. In a dramatic scene from the Schaeffer-produced film series Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Koop looked out on a thousand naked dolls strewn across the salt wastes of the Dead Sea and proclaimed, “I am standing on the site of Sodom, the place of evil and death.”
The aftermath of a momentous telephone call in August of 1980 put to the test this bedrock belief in God’s sovereignty. Ronald Reagan, who had read two of Koop’s books, wanted him to serve as the nation’s surgeon general. The appointment would help cement Reagan’s support among prolife constituents and especially evangelicals, the group who knew Koop best.
Koop’s black-and-white views came back to haunt him. Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and other prochoice groups led the cavalry charge, brandishing every extreme statement Koop had ever made on abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality.
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