Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards names Dr. Rebekah E. Gee health chief -- causing unease for anti-abortion groups _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards taps Dr. Rebekah Gee as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, Tuesday, January 5, 2016, in Baton Rouge, La.

Abortion opponents said Thursday they have found holes in the résumé of the incoming health chief that indicates an abortion rights stance that at the very least should be discussed.

Benjamin Clapper, director of Louisiana Right to Life, and the Rev. Gene Mills, head of Louisiana Family Forum, say the discrepancies between two résumés of Dr. Rebekah E. Gee may not disqualify her from being secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals — and at this point, neither opposes her nomination — but it raises questions.

Gee was named Tuesday by Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards to spearhead his efforts to expand Medicaid. Her appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.

“I haven’t spoken to her,” Clapper told The Advocate on Thursday, shortly after announcing issues with her résumé. “I’m saying this is what’s out there. This is what her past looks like.”

He discovered that Gee’s 2007 curriculum vitae, while a clinical scholar with the University of Pennsylvania, included a February 2003 speech at the National Abortion Rights Action League that was not included in her 2012 résumé with the LSU Health Sciences Center.

The lectures listed on Gee’s 11-page LSU résumé go back only to 2006.

“I hope it was a matter of a failure to disclose rather than an intentional effort to advance what may be viewed, and will likely be viewed, as a hostile DHH secretary,” said Mills, who will release past statements from Gee on Friday that he says indicate that the nominee has aggressively advocated for access to abortions.

“I find it ironic that the most pro-life state in the nation has received, somewhat in a clandestine fashion, a very aggressive advocate for the abortion position. I find that not coincidental,” Mills said.

Gee referred questions to Edwards’ transition team.

Edwards’ transition staff said in a written statement that the governor-elect had discussed Gee’s personal stance on abortion with her and that the nominee understands that she can be fired by the governor at any time.

“She is committed to following the law and the governor’s directives in all respects,” said Julie Baxter Payer, a deputy chief of staff in the transition office, noting that the statement had been approved by Edwards.

Payer pointed out that Gee has worked for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s DHH since 2010 and most recently worked as medical director for Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

Gee has delivered more than 800 babies in her career. “Her focus has been on preventing the need for any woman to be put in the situation where an abortion becomes a choice offered to her,” Payer wrote in her emailed statement.

Gee was trained at elite Ivy League colleges: Columbia University, Cornell University Medical College and the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation’s leading medical facilities, and teaches at the LSU schools of Medicine and of Public Health.

Gee is widely published on women’s health and healthy births.

Additionally, Louisiana Right to Life found that in 2006, while working as an obstetrics and gynecology resident for Mass General, Gee was a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged Wal-Mart’s policy not to stock the so-called “morning-after” pill. The medicine is legal and has been widely available across the nation. Wal-Mart agreed to stock the pill at its 44 pharmacies in Massachusetts.

“With such a long record of connections with pro-abortion entities, it raises into question her abilities to run the Department of Health and Hospitals in a pro-life manner,” Clapper said.

He doesn’t question that Edwards is against abortion and his pointing out the connections doesn’t necessarily mean that Gee would make decisions that would promote abortion rights in a state that has passed many restrictions on the legal practice of medically terminating a pregnancy, Clapper said.

But a lot of the regulations and procedures are overseen by DHH. The agency also will be responsible for enforcing state law at the Planned Parenthood clinic being built in New Orleans, which is expected to include an abortion clinic.

Mills said he was concerned about funding for crisis centers for pregnant women and the future of the litigation DHH filed to stop state funding of Planned Parenthood for providing health care services to women. A federal district court ruled against the state in that lawsuit, but it is now on appeal.

“Pro-life citizens of the state are probably going to be concerned about why someone with this background would be the head of such an important position,” Clapper said.

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