Obama Pick Regina Benjamin’s Support for Abortion Education Prompts Questions
by Steven Ertelt
July 15, 2009
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — In what appears to be a replay of the debate concerning Sonia Sotomayor, groups on both sides of the abortion debate are asking where Regina Benjamin, Obama’s pick for Surgeon General, stands on abortion. They’re coming away with more questions than answers.
On Monday, LifeNews.com broke the news that Benjamin had supported an American Medical Association policy in December 1996 that called for more abortion education. The article also highlighted her involvement with a pro-abortion doctors group.
Today, the White House confirmed that Benjamin shares the views of pro-abortion President Barack Obama on "reproductive health issues," which presumably includes abortion.
Leading pro-life and pro-abortion groups have been silent, so far, on Benjamin.
The officials from top pro-life organizations that LifeNews.com has spoken to like Benjamin’s Catholic background and her service to her community but they question where she stands on abortion and abortion training.
Reports today indicate that Benjamin dispenses birth control at her Alabama clinic and officials there told the McClatchy news service that abortions are not done but would not comment on whether Benjamin’s center makes abortion referrals.
The focus is also turning to the statement the AMA adopted at a December 1996 conference urging more abortion education.
The AMA called on medical schools to "encourage education on termination of pregnancy issues so that medical students receive a satisfactory knowledge of the medical, ethical, legal, and psychological principles associated with termination of pregnancy."
The statement went further by saying "observation of, attendance at, or any direct or indirect participation in an abortion should not be required.
LifeNews.com quoted from an AP story at the time that featured Benjamin apparently speaking either on the AMA’s behalf, or for physicians who backed the policy.
"We are adopting a policy that medical school curriculum provide the legal, ethical, and psychological principles associated with abortion so students can learn all the factors involved," she said.
Benjamin’s description of the policy statement may have been a conservative estimate as the same AP story said the AMA wanted future physicians to learn "more than just the ethics of it," making it appear that the AMA, and presumably Benjamin, wanted students to learn to perform abortions or to at least support abortion enough to make referrals.
At the same December 10, 1996 conference, the AMA voted to reaffirm the organization’s policy supporting abortion, saying the "termination of pregnancy is a medical matter between the patient and physician, subject to the physician’s clinical judgment, the patient’s informed consent and the availability of appropriate facilities."
That pro-abortion statement squares with comments from White House officials that Benjamin shares Obama’s views.
Though the AMA statement said abortion education and training should not be required, the organization has certainly encouraged it.
In 1999, the AMA published a study in its Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that appeared to clarify the intent of the 1996 Benjamin-backed policy — to encourage doctors to learn to do abortions.
The study highlighted what it considered a problem of the graying of the abortion industry and it showed 57% of those who performed abortions were 50 years or older.
"The decline in abortion services has also coincided with a decline in routine abortion training in residency programs, JAMA lamented.
The percentage of obstetrics and gynecology residency (OB/GYN) programs that routinely included first trimester abortion training decreased from 23% in 1985 to 12% in 1991. Second trimester abortion training was routinely provided in 21% of programs in 1985 but only 7% of programs in 1991," the article went on to say.
To combat the declining abortion training, a group of medical students formed Medical Students for Choice (MSFC) in 1993. The AMA adopted its abortion education policy just three years later.
The JAMA article talked about the pro-abortion organizations efforts — including how the MSFC petitioned the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to make abortion training a required part of OB/GYN residency programs.
"In 1995 the ACGME made more explicit the requirement that all OB/GYN residency programs seeking accreditation provide routine abortion training, JAMA stated.
With respect to induced abortion, residency programs are required to provide ‘access to experience’ and residency programs and/or individual residents with religious or moral objections are allowed to opt out of induced abortion training," JAMA noted. "This ‘access’ can be provided as either an elective or a required rotation and, unlike other OB/GYN procedures, the mandate does not require that residents perform induced abortion procedures."
While abortion advocates want medical schools to require abortion training, they, and apparently the AMA, also want to go further.
"To date, educational and legislative initiatives affecting training in abortion have focused almost exclusively on OB/GYN residency programs, the JAMA article laments. A 1995 study found that the vast majority (71%-88%) of family practice residency programs did not include abortion training."
Increasing the number of family physicians who perform abortions has the potential to greatly improve access to this service and address some the current geographic and rural-urban disparities, JAMA concluded, endorsing the pro-abortion efforts.
Abortion training has been such a contentious issue that, during the summer of the same year as the AMA position, Congress weighed in on the debate.
It adopted the pro-life Coats Amendment which mandated that residency programs will be considered accredited by the federal government or any state or local government that receives federal funds even if the programs fail to comply with the abortion training requirements.
While the Coats amendment saved residency programs from losing federal, state, or local funding if they chose not to include abortion training, pro-life advocates have noted that they are still able to pressure students to take the training
That’s even though a conscience clause, for students who morally object to opt out, exists in the accreditation requirements.
In 2002, New York City required OB/GYN residents in the city’s 11 public hospitals to be trained in medical and surgical abortion. That same year, California enacted a state law that required abortion training at the state’s 6 public medical schools. California institutions that decide not to teach abortion must provide opportunity for residents to receive the training elsewhere.
Both laws provided conscience clauses for objecting students to avoid the required training.
Anne DeLong of the Catholic Medical Association told LifeNews.com in December 2003 that While different states have conscience clause laws of their own, students are often in jeopardy."
We get calls from interns and residents being required to offer emergency contraception, and they refuse at their peril," she said at the time. Their careers are at stake."
With the AMA adopting a position in 1996 supporting abortion education and, three years later, aggressively promoting the training of future physicians in how to perform abortions, the goal of the original position statement Benjamin supported appears clear.
And with the contention over abortion taking center stage during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, Congress is sure to ask Benjamin about abortion training.
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