WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration continued its efforts this weekend to salvage the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster Jr. as surgeon general, scheduling an array of administration officials for today's television talk shows on his behalf and trying to rally support among physician and other medical groups.
But the White House also found itself responding to new reports: According to the Associated Press, Dr. Foster wrote in a 1976 medical journal that he had performed hysterectomies to sterilize some severely mentally retarded women.
A White House official said yesterday that Dr. Foster was very much in the mainstream of medical practice at the time he performed those hysterectomies.
"That was consistent with medical theory and practice at the time," said John Podesta, the White House official.
"It's changed in the intervening years, and Dr. Foster, along with the rest of mainstream medicine, no longer accepts the sterilization of mentally retarded women by hysterectomy as appropriate, although other medical reasons might justify the procedure."
In the article, published in the January 1976 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, Dr. Foster indicated that doctors must "guard vigilantly against the injudicious and indiscriminate removal of the normal uterus."
But he also indicated that hysterectomies could provide "significant hygienic benefit" to some severely mentally retarded women.
"Recently I have begun to use hysterectomy in patients with severe mental retardation," the article said. "Hysterectomy can be done either for sterilization or to eliminate the menses, which is of significant hygienic benefit in these severely handicapped individuals."
White House officials said they knew about Dr. Foster's performance of these hysterectomies before submitting his name in nomination. They generally brushed aside the significance of this report.
Dr. Foster, whose nomination has touched off opposition because he performed abortions, was back home in Tennessee this weekend, officials said. In the coming week, he will begin courtesy calls to senators, they added.
The Associated Press reported that the drumbeat of criticism continued yesterday, nonetheless. Commentator Patrick Buchanan told the Conservative Political Action Committee that
the nomination should be rejected because "any man who performs abortions is not morally qualified to stand in the bully pulpit of surgeon general of the United States."
Dr. Foster's nomination has not been formally submitted to the Senate because an FBI background check has not been completed, the AP reported. Attorney General Janet Reno declined to comment yesterday on the status of the FBI review but called Dr. Foster's credentials "very impressive."
In the meantime, Mr. Podesta of the White House said, "We're working with a broad range of doctor groups, other medical groups, religious and educational groups, and pro-choice groups rally support behind him."
On Friday, a dozen medical groups, including the American College of Physicians, the National Medical Association and the Tennessee Medical Association, joined the obstetricians and gynecologists in supporting the nomination, and the American Medical Association reaffirmed its support of the nominee.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also rallied to Dr. Foster's defense.
"In spite of Dr. Foster's illustrious record, there are some who would deny him a hearing before the nomination process has even begun," said Dr. Ralph Hale, executive director of the group.