MediaWatch: February 1989

Vol. Three No. 2

The Real Scoop On Koop

On January 9 Surgeon General C. Everett Koop filed a report with the President on the health effects of abortion. Here's what the network anchors told viewers that night: ABC's Peter Jennings said "a new report by the Surgeon General concludes that abortion causes little if any physical or emotional harm to women." Dan Rather of CBS announced that "Surgeon General C. Everett Koop...reportedly concluded that a woman who has an abortion suffers little if any physical or emotional harm from the experience." NBC's Tom Brokaw declared that "Koop reports he has not found conclusive evidence that abortions have harmful psychological effects on the women who have them," but Koop "found that there is a whole segment of the population that says, quote, 'the best thing that happened to me was my abortion.'"

In a letter to Reagan, the Surgeon General explained that "scientific studies do not provide conclusive data about the health effects of abortion on women." In claiming Koop "concluded" anything, Jennings and Rather obviously missed the mark. But Brokaw's remarks distorted Koop's statement that "anecdotal reports abound on both sides," on whether abortion is a traumatic experience. Only CNN's Mary Alice Williams accurately reported, "what is known about the psychological effects of abortion cannot support either side of the national debate about it." Perhaps anticipating network coverage, in his letter to Reagan Koop predicted that "many who might read this letter would not understand it because I have not arrived at conclusions they can accept."