Embattled surgeon general nominee Henry Foster Jr. on Wednesday night acknowledged having performed more than three times the number of abortions he had estimated last week but said that “I abhor abortion” and asked to be judged on his full public health career.
Breaking the customary silence of nominees at the urging of the White House, the Tennessee physician said in a televised interview that he was listed as “physician of record” in 39 abortions during the course of his 38 years in medicine.
He also said that, during his involvement as a supervisor in clinical trials of an abortion-inducing drug, 55 women had terminated pregnancies. But he asserted that those abortions should not be counted toward his total, since “they weren’t my private patients. … Many times I was not even in the country when they occurred.”
Foster’s statements on ABC’s “Nightline” marked what the Clinton administration hopes will be a successful counterattack against abortion foes who have called Foster’s abortion record and his credibility into question since his nomination last week.
Alleging that Foster may have performed hundreds of abortions and disclosing his involvement in the abortion drug tests, opponents have stirred a tempest in Congress and brought predictions from both parties that the nomination may be doomed.
Foster told ABC that the administration’s earlier reports of lower abortion totals were the results of simple misunderstandings and his failure to appreciate that he should not rely on his memory. His initial report that he had taken part in only one abortion he said, grew from a casual response when an administration aide had asked if he had undertaken any pregnancy terminations.
He said he answered: “Yes, I remember, there was a woman who had AIDS.”
He said that a statement he released last Friday increasing the estimate to fewer than a dozen was also based on memory from a practice that began a third of a century ago.
But now, better grasping the rules of the “fast town” of Washington, he understood that he should have refused to answer the question. “I was depending on memory - I shouldn’t have done that.”