HENRY FOSTER insists that his nomination to be surgeon general
is not "about abortion."
But, in fact, that is what it has become. And as a Senate
committee began consideration this week of Dr. Foster's
qualifications for the post, it signaled the end of a near
cease-fire in Congress's abortion wars.
It also heralds the reemergence of prickly social issues,
including school prayer and affirmative action, that were largely
not dealt with in Congress's first 100 days. It will be the first
major test, too, of the anti-abortion credentials of two top
contenders for the GOP presidential nomination: Senate majority
leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas.
The pro-life movement has been disappointed by GOP leaders this
year. On the Foster nomination, anti-abortion activists expect the
Senate leadership to do all it can to defeat the Tennessee
obstetrician-gynecologist, who, on his nomination in February,
understated the number of abortions he had performed.
But some anti-abortion supporters won't be satisfied just with
Foster's defeat. They want senators opposed to abortion to say they
are voting against Foster because of his abortion record and not
hide behind objections to a "lack of credibility."
"Many Republicans are uncomfortable saying that their opposition
is over abortion," says Jeffrey Bell, a Republican anti-abortion
activist. "It's the issue that dare not speak its name."
Foster and his supporters have expressed enormous frustration
over a feeling that he has become a caricature: "Dr. Foster, the
abortionist." On the first day of hearings, Foster fairly leapt out
of his chair with enthusiasm for the opportunity to define himself
as a doctor who has delivered thousands of babies, set up an
award-winning program to help teens avoid pregnancy, and is a
leading medical educator.
But the skirmishing over his abortion record has left him facing
an uphill battle even to reach the Senate floor for a vote. Senator
Dole has threatened to bar such a vote, and there is talk of a
Republican filibuster if floor debate begins.
In the broader abortion wars, this could be only the beginning
of a new wave of battles. In the House, where the issue was
intentionally kept on the back burner during the charged first 100
days, anti-abortion members are talking about trying such moves as
defunding test trials for the anti-abortion pill; reinstating a ban
on discussion of abortion in federally funded clinics; barring the
District of Columbia from spending its money on abortions; and
establishing a nationwide, 24-hour waiting period for women seeking