Seven months after his nomination for surgeon general was shot down amid a bitter flap over the number of abortions he had performed, Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr. has resurfaced in a new role at the White House - senior adviser to the president on the issue of teen pregnancy.
In announcing Foster’s appointment, President Clinton on Monday praised the Tennessee obstetrician-gynecologist for dedicating his career “to dealing with this complex, profoundly human problem,” and said Foster would work with community groups across the nation “to help give our young people the strength and the tools they need to lead responsible and successful lives.”
Clinton has been saying for more than a year - ever since his 1995 State of the Union address - that teen pregnancy is one of the nation’s most pressing social problems. He reiterated the theme last week, in this year’s annual message to Congress.
In making the issue a cornerstone of his domestic policy agenda, Clinton has put himself squarely on the turf of his Republican adversaries. They claim the rise in illegitimacy is the result of liberal welfare policies.
These same adversaries, using the theme of family values, helped scuttle Foster’s nomination to the surgeon general’s post in June by attacking discrepancies in Foster’s accounts of the number of abortions he performed. And on Monday, conservatives again criticized Clinton’s choice.
Every year, about 1 million American teenagers become pregnant, a figure that accounts for roughly 11 percent of young women aged 15 to 19. Contrary to popular assumption, however, the national teen pregnancy rate has actually declined slightly in recent years, dropping 4 percent from 1991 to 1993, according to statistics provided by the White House.
As the founder of the successful “I Have a Future” program in Nashville, Tenn., Foster gained national acclaim for his work in teen pregnancy prevention. The program used after-school classes to teach girls how having a baby could restrict their lives; only a handful of the more than 800 young women who went through it got pregnant.
Throughout his confirmation struggle, when Foster was asked what he would like to do if he became surgeon general, he replied that he would combat teen pregnancy.