Surgeon General nominee Henry Foster, M.D., last week defended his credibility during U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, saying he made an "honest mistake" when he underestimated the number of abortions he had performed at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.
But some Republicans continued their threats to block a confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Others said a filibuster in the full Senate will not be necessary because they believe the Labor and Human Resources Committee, before which Foster testified last week, will reject his confirmation.
For the committee to approve Foster, two Republicans would have to join the seven Democrats on the 16-member panel in a vote that at press time had not been scheduled.
As of late last week, one Republican senator, James Jeffords of Vermont, had declared his support for Foster. Other GOP candidates for a favorable vote were committee Chairwoman Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas and William H. Frist, M.D., of Tennessee.
During the two-day confirmation hearing, Republicans challenged Foster's credibility because he initially said he'd performed fewer than a dozen abortions at Meharry.
Foster said that he later checked his records and found he was the physician of record in 39 abortion cases, some of which were actually handled by Meharry residents.
"In my desire to provide instant answers to the barrage of questions coming at me, I spoke without having all the facts at my disposal," said Foster, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
"There was never any intent to deceive," he added.
Senators challenged Foster on numerous points, ranging from his knowledge of an experiment in Alabama in which poor black men with syphilis were left untreated to the performance of a teen-pregnancy prevention program that Foster founded.
They also questioned him about accreditation losses that occurred while he was Meharry's dean and acting president.
The obstetrics-gynecology program, which Foster had chaired, was one of the medical college's departments that lost accreditation.
Foster blamed the losses on a lack of patients. But he said the problems should be solved by Meharry's merger with another Nashville hospital.
Frist cautioned against judging Foster based on difficult decisions that all physicians face during their careers.
"I can tell you from experience that no one practices medicine as long as Hank Foster-38 years-without making mistakes," Frist said. "No physician performs clinical research without having to make troubling choices."