|C. Everett Koop
Randall Balmer, writing for Ed Blum’s new Christian Century column “Then and Now,” says yes.
Balmer reaffirms his well-known argument that the leadership of the Religious Right initially coalesced not around the opposition to Roe v. Wade, but in opposition to Green v. Connally, the case that rescinded tax exempt status from schools that discriminated based on race.
But he does not dismiss the fact that anti-abortion was important. Balmer suggests that it was opposition to abortion that rallied many Christian conservatives at the grassroots level. This, he argues, is where the recently deceased C. Everett Koop enters the story. Here is a taste of his piece:
…Koop, a distinguished pediatric surgeon, had long opposed abortion, but in 1978 he teamed up with Francis A. Schaeffer, a goateed, knicker-wearing evangelical philosopher, to produce a film series called Whatever Happened to the Human Race?
Schaeffer had long excoriated what he called “secular humanism” and warned that the legalization of abortion would soon lead to infanticide and euthanasia. Koop’s sterling reputation as a physician added credibility to the argument. As the film series toured American cities in 1979, the term “secular humanism” entered the political lexicon—and Falwell, Weyrich and other leaders of the religious right harvested popular anger over abortion. They adroitly mobilized politically conservative evangelicals into a potent voting bloc in time for the 1980 election.
The rest, as they say, is history. The religious right settled on Ronald Reagan as their champion and standard-bearer, despite the fact that as governor of California Reagan had signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the nation. They supported him instead of his evangelical opponent with a longer record of opposing abortion, incumbent Jimmy Carter.
The religious right’s reward was the appointment of Koop as surgeon general of the United States. But Koop proved to be his own man:
- He called attention to the burgeoning AIDS crisis, even though others in the Reagan administration preferred to ignore it.
- He advocated for sex education and the use of condoms, which pitted him against other leaders of the religious right, especially Phyllis Schlafly.
- He quashed a specious, politically motivated report that asserted that women who had abortions suffered adverse psychological effects.
- He called attention to the deleterious effects of both smoking and second-hand smoke in restaurants and bars and on airplanes.