NOW Supports Foster Nomination

by Melinda L. Shelton

Senate confirmation hearings of U.S. Surgeon General nominee Dr. Henry Foster began with Foster receiving the strong support of the National Organization for Women, and many other groups who appreciate his record as a leader in maternal and child health services. At this writing, however, the hearings are in jeopardy -- Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., has said that he may not allow the nomination to be voted upon.

NOW President Patricia Ireland submitted statements to the White House and key members of Congress expressing NOW's ongoing support of Foster's nomination. Ireland praised the Nashville physician's successes in addressing teen pregnancy and sharply criticized efforts by the right wing to derail Foster's nomination.

Since being nominated by President Clinton in early February, Foster has been the target of intense criticism from right wing extremists and anti-abortion foes who question his performing legal abortions as part of his obstetrics practice. Ireland leveled her own criticism at those who are using Foster's performance of legal abortions as grounds for disqualifying him from public office.

"We are very concerned about the attacks against Dr. Foster that are based on the fact that he has performed abortions during his career. Abortion is a legal medical procedure and access to these services is still a constitutionally protected right in this country. Abortion is a medically appropriate procedure under a variety of circumstances. If Dr. Foster had not performed any abortions during his 38-year career, we would question whether he had provided appropriate medical care to his patients."

"The idea that the performance of abortions should be a disqualifier for public office is very dangerous for the future of women's health. We believe this line of attack contributes to the current climate of anti-abortion intimidation, harassment and violence and reduces women's access to necessary medical care."

Similar support has come from various members of Congress, including U.S. Sens. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., as well as the American Medical Association, the National Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Ireland lauded Foster's development of the Nashville-based "I Have a Future" program, which provides job training, education and counseling to at-risk teenagers in efforts to delay sexual activity and to give them hope for their futures. This program was named as one of George Bush's "Thousand Points of Light" in 1991 and has been highly effective in reducing pregnancies among participating teens.

In an interview printed in the March 28 issue of USA Today, Foster said he found it ironic that his work fighting teen pregnancy has been overshadowed by controversy from anti-abortion foes. "I do believe in the right of a woman to choose, and I also support the president's belief that abortions should be safe, legal and rare," he said. "But my life's work has been dedicated to making sure that young people don't have to face the choice of having abortions."

Right wingers also criticized Foster for participating in performing as many as six hysterectomies on mentally disabled women at the request of their guardians, in the late 1960s and very early 1970s.

"Although NOW abhors unnecessary hysterectomies, what Dr. Foster did was no different from what many well- meaning doctors did two decades ago," NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy said in a news release. "Medical opinion has changed since then and so has Dr. Foster's opinion.

"The historical attitude of the mainstream medical profession toward women's reproductive health, and particularly that of mentally disabled women, has left much to be desired. And NOW has worked for nearly 30 years to change those attitudes and the treatment that comes with them."

Opposition to Foster's nomination was expected to increase during the Senate confirmation hearings, but he vowed to "go in with candor, forthrightness and clarity."

Said Gandy, "Dr. Foster has devoted his life to ensuring that women receive the full range of reproductive health care, and he deserves to be judged on his entire record."

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