A partial transcript from a 1978 federal hearing made public on Monday by an anti-abortion group created new problems for the nomination of President Clinton’s choice for surgeon general, suggesting he had performed many more abortions than he had acknowledged.
The nominee, Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr., vehemently denied through a spokeswoman that the transcript revealed his record, which he accused anti-abortion forces of misrepresenting.
But as controversy grew over the obstetrician and gynecologist from Tennessee, Clinton appeared to soften in his support, telling reporters that he would back Foster “if the facts are as I understand them to be.”
According to the one-page transcript released by the National Right to Life Committee, a speaker identified as Foster is quoted as saying, “I have done a lot of amniocentesis and therapeutic abortions, probably near 700.” According to a notation at the top of the page, the transcript was of a meeting of the Ethics Advisory Board of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in Seattle on Nov. 10, 1978.
That panel was formed to research whether federal grants should be made available for research on fetal tissue. Such research was ultimately approved.
“He flatly denies that this is a representation of his record in this transcript,” said Avis LaVelle, the spokeswoman. “The transcript does not indicate what Dr. Foster this might be, but nowhere on that page does it say Dr. Henry Foster. But we are researching to see just what the facts are.”
The transcript appears to deal with a procedure for studying fetuses, as well as various techniques for inducing abortion. The comments are only those of the speaker identified as Dr. Foster and do not make clear whether the speaker was a member of the panel or a witness.
Both LaVelle and the White House chief spokesman, Michael McCurry, acknowledged that Foster was a member of the ethics advisory board from which the transcript was produced, and neither questioned that the document was part of the official record. But they said they were checking to see if Foster attended the hearing in Seattle. In any case, they said, he “flat outright denied” making the statement.
“Since he is pretty adamant that he didn’t do 700 therapeutic abortions or amniocentesis, we are trying to figure out if this was a garbled transcript or what,” McCurry said.
“We’re still trying to get more information on this transcript.”
A therapeutic abortion is one loosely defined as considered necessary by a doctor.
An amniocentesis is a procedure by which doctors draw amniotic fluid during pregnancy to determine a genetic disorder in a fetus.
Nowhere in the portion of the transcript that is in dispute does the speaker give a breakdown of how many of either procedure the doctor had performed.
The nomination of Foster as the nation’s chief medical officer had already turned into a crucial political battle over the abortion issue, and the disputed page of testimony from 16 years ago could doom his chances for Senate confirmation and spell another embarrassing political defeat for Clinton.