As the United States government prepares for further personnel shifts in the administration, Americans are anxious to know the nominees’ priorities. How refreshing, then, to see health and justice for the American people trump politics. As Judge Sotomayor faces the scrutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Obama has nominated Regina Benjamin to be the next Surgeon General– America’s “top doctor.” Part of what will make, and has made, these women such phenomenal public servants is their refusal to be snagged by the issue of abortion. Instead, they recognize it as just one element of their respective jobs: a doctor working for health and a judge working for justice.
The President’s new nominee for Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, is a Catholic, a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, and has been described as “an angel in a white coat.” However, to her patients, she is a doctor first and foremost. A recent article in the Miami Herald addresses the fact that the Catholic nominee’s clinic for low income communities offers referrals to abortion providers: “As a physician, she is deeply committed to the philosophy of putting her patients’ needs first when it comes to providing care.” Why does this sound so novel? A doctor’s commitment to her patients’ best interests should not be subject to ideology.
Similarly, as the Senate Judiciary Committee questions Judge Sotomayor, she unfailingly shows her commitment to justice above politics. The Los Angeles Times reports on a July 15th exchange between Senator John Cornyn (R- TX) and the nominee. He pressed her on a May Washington Post article purporting that she will undoubtedly support abortion rights and has “generally liberal instincts.” Yet, she refuses to fall victim to politics; her response shows clarity: “I promote equal opportunity in America.” The judge’s words remind us that government, especially the judicial branch, should not play political games at the expense of serving the people and the laws of the United States.
We cannot know how Sotomayor’s tenure on the Supreme Court might influence social justice in America, nor should we forget that, as NPR points out, “the surgeon general’s entire operations budget, by comparison, is less than one-thousandth of the annual sales budget of Pfizer.” However, both of these women’s careers constitute an important reframing of the old abortion debate. They force us to address the bigger picture by refusing to allow politics and ideology to fence abortion out of its broader implications. Kudos to these women for talking about abortion in terms of the pursuit of health and justice, in which it can play an integral role.
Read more on The Opportunity Agenda blog.