Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Top Doc"... Pro-Choice?

Regina Benjamin, Pro Ecclesia... ed anti-abortion?

Not quite, it seems:
President Barack Obama's nominee for surgeon general is a Catholic best known for founding an Alabama clinic that treats the poor, but her lesser-known support for abortion rights puts her at odds with her church and some of the groups that have praised her work.

Regina Benjamin's Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic doesn't perform abortions. A clinic employee who declined to be identified said by telephone that patients seeking information about abortions would be referred to providers in the state.

White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said, however, that Benjamin "supports the president's position on reproductive health issues."

Obama supports abortion rights and public funding of contraception and sex education.

Cherlin continued: "Like him she believes that this is an issue where it is important to try and seek common ground and come together to try and reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. As a physician, she is deeply committed to the philosophy of putting her patients' needs first when it comes to providing care."

Benjamin also was a board member for Physicians for Human Rights, an international group that has advocated access to safe abortions in its investigation of human rights conditions in some countries....

Gregg Bloche, a doctor and lawyer who served on the Physicians for Human Rights board with Benjamin, said he didn't know her views on abortion and that it was never a focus of her advocacy work. "That is not something she's engaged in," he said.

"The story of her appointment and the potential of the job are, in my view, about getting people in the worst circumstances in life to be proactive about their own health needs, a grassroots initiative as part of a larger sense of both individual and common responsibility," Bloche said. "I think that's what her appointment represents. To get hung up on abortion would completely miss the point."

Msgr. Michael Farmer, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., told the Catholic News Agency that he didn't "explicitly" know about Dr. Benjamin's abortion stance and never discussed it with her.

"I would hope that her position would be in line with the Church's position," he added.

"As far as I know she has been in conformity with the Catholic Church."

Msgr. Farmer said Dr. Benjamin is a “delightful lady” who has served as lector at the cathedral and has been “readily available” to speak with various Catholic organizations. She has also worked with Catholic Charities in Mobile and has spoken on the good the organization does.

He reported that she grew up at the historically African-American parish Shrine of the Holy Cross in the Gulf Coast town of Daphne, Alabama.

The monsignor also confirmed that then-Archbishop of Mobile Oscar Lipscomb recommend [sic] Dr. Regina Benjamin for the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award. The medal is bestowed to lay people and clergy who have given zealous and outstanding service to the Church. The honor was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1888.

“He recommended her for her example in her Catholic faith as well as in her medical profession,” Msgr. Farmer said, noting the “amazing amount of work” she has done for the common good and for health care in south Mobile County.

Expressing certainty that Dr. Benjamin had opportunities to go elsewhere, he said the doctor had made a “concrete decision” to remain in Alabama and address her patients’ needs.

“She’s noted not only for clinic work, but for going on site to these people’s homes. And they’re not necessarily the nicest places to go to.”

He said it was “remarkable” and “bridge-building” that Dr. Benjamin, an African-American woman, has done her work in the bayou, which he described as a majority white community with “a lot of poor people in it.”...

In a Monday morning telephone interview, [Catholic Health Association president] Sr. [Carol] Keehan pointed out that Dr. Benjamin isn't “in a specialty that would do abortion” and that her work to provide health care to the poor and elderly demonstrates her “tremendous attention to the issue of life.”

“And you've got her own archbishop who asked the Holy Father to give her the Pro Ecclesia medal.

“You don't get that for just being a token Catholic,” she told CNA.

All that said, however, a more pressing development looms: the "deal breaker" prospect of Federal funding for abortions in the administration's plans for expanded public health insurance.