A Surgeon General's Warnings
You say your views on homosexuality have not changed. What about abortion?
There was so much misunderstanding on that issue. Last week a woman came running up to me and said, "Oh, Doctor Koop, I'm so pleased that you've turned your position on abortion." And I said, "Madam, you have misunderstood me completely. I have not turned my position on abortion: I just refuse to be dishonest with statistics, that's all." I think doctors and scientist appreciated my position [that there was not enough statistical evidence to prove the harmful effects of abortion on the mother], but many prolifers were very upset.
I keep telling prolife people, such as Harold O. J. Brown, "You have been magnificent in the fight against abortion by making it a moral issue, with the life of the fetus as the primary concern. Don't shift the grounds of the argument. If you have to shift to the health of the mother and the other side perceives that you've had to shift your base, you've lost it."
It's been reported that you recommended abortion for women who are pregnant with an aids-infected fetus. True?
Never. No. That issue is the kind of thing that always comes up in a question-and-answer period. I read my speeches verbatim because I know how the press can distort. In this case, the question arose in a discussion of a clinic in Baltimore where something like 29 percent of the pregnant women were found to be HIV-positive. Did I think those women should have abortions? I answered, No, I'm opposed to abortion. In the follow-up discussion I said that although I could never and would never advise an individual woman to have an abortion, if she requested counseling on the pros and cons of abortion, I thought she was entitled to it.
Only a third of women who are hiv-positive produce a baby with aids. And I've said for the record that I wouldn't even recommend abortion for Tay-Sachs disease, which is 100 percent fatal for the youngster. So why would I possibly recommend abortion for aids when you have 60 or 70 percent of these children coming out okay?
You often defend yourself by claiming that the press distorted your position.
I do because it's true. Selective reporting happens wherever I go. In a lecture, I never recommend the use of condoms until I've gone through the litany of reasons for abstinence and monogamy. Then I approach condoms by saying, If you don't listen to those two good health messages, then you've got to protect yourself. The headlines, however, will always read, "Koop Recommends Condoms," and won't mention abstinence or monogamy. One problem is that the people who write the headlines aren't the ones who write the story. Headline writers don't think "Koop Recommends Abstinence" is news, but "Koop Recommends Condoms" is.
I don't want to beat on Harold O. J. Brown, an old friend, but he was vehement in his disapproval of me over the abortion letter. When Time misrepresented me, he said, "Chick, how can you let Time magazine say that?" What do you mean how can I let Time magazine say that? But what can you do, except write a letter to the editor? A cover story in Newsweek had me ordering a double Scotch just before I went to bed—something I never do. I wrote a letter of protest to the editor, which they printed, but how many remember that letter? People just remember me ordering the Scotch.