Speculation about whether President Barack Obama’s new nominee for surgeon general is a pro-life Catholic has been circulating in the press and on the internet. On Wednesday, a White House spokesman touched on the matter but only said Dr. Regina Benjamin supports the president on “reproductive health issues.”
Dr. Benjamin, a rural Catholic doctor from Alabama, has served on the board of the Catholic Health Association. She has also received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from the Pope because of her example in her Catholic faith and in her medical profession, Monsignor Michael L. Farmer told CNA on Monday.
Msgr. Farmer, rector at the cathedral in Mobile, Alabama, said Dr. Benjamin had served as a lector there. Acknowledging that he did not “explicitly” know the nominee’s position on abortion and other life issues, he said that to his knowledge she has been “in conformity with the Catholic Church.”
The monsignor also expressed hope she would adhere to Catholic moral teaching in a position with the Obama administration.
However, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin told McClatchy Newspapers on Wednesday that Dr. Benjamin “supports the president’s position on reproductive health issues.”
President Obama supports legalized abortion, public funding of contraception and “comprehensive” sex education.
“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,” Cherlin continued, according to McClatchy. “As a physician, she is deeply committed to the philosophy of putting her patients' needs first when it comes to providing care.”
Dr. Benjamin founded and operated the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic, which does not perform abortions. An unidentified clinic employee told McClatchy that patients seeking information about abortions would be referred to providers in the state.
The surgeon general nominee was also a board member between 1996 and 2000 of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an international group that has advocated access to “safe” abortions in its investigations of conditions in some countries.
A PHR associate of Benjamin's said that during her time on the board abortion “was never a focus of her advocacy work.”
Dr. Benjamin is President Obama’s second proposed candidate for surgeon general. He had previously considered CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who withdrew himself from consideration in March.