In 1988, Henry W. Foster Jr. was one of Bush's "1,000 points of light" for his innovative teenage pregnancy prevention program. His "I Have a Future" program sought to reduce teenage pregnancy in two Nashville housing projects through a combination of education, distribution of condoms and emphasis on abstinence. Conservatives and liberals alike hailed it as a success.
But now that Foster has been nominated for Surgeon General, his track record of nearly 30 years has been forgotten in a flurry of name-calling. The doctor who has delivered more than 10,000 babies and been praised by almost every mainstream medical association is now labeled as an "abortionist" and "abortion activist." And it is highly unlikely he's going to be able to shake the scarlet letter which has been placed around his neck by antiabortion activists.
Foster has admitted that he has performed 39 abortions, but in most of those either the mother's life was in danger or rape or incest was involved. Regardless, when it was revealed that Foster had performed the abortions, Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., said, "He's (Foster) an abortionist who kills children."
Foster's commitment to reducing teenage pregnancy through prevention and education cannot be questioned. In a country with the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Western world, Foster has set an example which, up until this point, had not been questioned.
Foster's nomination is in severe trouble because of not only the abortion issue, but also the hysterectomies he performed in the 1970s to sterilize some severely mentally retarded women. At the time he performed the hysterectomies, such sterilizations were done not to prevent retarded women from having children, but to alleviate the effects of menstruation for those having difficultly. Since then, new medications and technologies have made sterilizations less necessary.
Just like with the Lani Guinier nomination for U.S. Attorney General, the right has been quick to attack and over-generalize the nomination and the press has been blind enough not to challenge the very surface analysis provided by politicians. It's sad that the Foster nomination has boiled down to a war of soundbites.
Rather than look at the nominee's record, abortion has been allowed to define him. Foster's record has been consistent with someone who is dedicated to providing education, counseling, preventive health care and contraceptive access for teenagers. He is hardly an "abortion activist." The preventive measures of pregnancy program are consistent with his statement that he wished abortion would be "safe, legal and rare."
It is not likely that Foster is going to be given the opportunity for a fair fight. Initially, Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican leader, said Foster's nomination sounded like a good one. But when he first heard Foster had performed abortions, the New York Times reported that "Senator Dole simply grinned and walked away."
Conservatives are going to make this nomination process ugly. Very ugly.
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