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Satcher confirmed as surgeon general despite partial-birth abortion stance

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate confirmed David Satcher as surgeon general Feb. 10, despite efforts led by Sen. John Ashcroft, R.-Mo., to block his approval partly because of his support for partial-birth abortion.
The Senate voted 63-35 to confirm Satcher, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after easily turning back Ashcroft’s filibuster attempt by a 75-23 count. Nineteen Republicans joined all 44 Democrats to confirm President Clinton’s latest nominee. Ashcroft needed 41 votes to sustain a filibuster.
It is the first time the president has had a surgeon general since he fired Joycelyn Elders in December 1994. Clinton nominated Henry Foster in 1995, but the Senate rejected the acting president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. Clinton refused to nominate another candidate until he announced Satcher’s selection last September.
“No one is better qualified than Dr. Satcher to be America’s doctor,” the president said in a written statement after the Senate vote. “He is a mainstream physician who is an eloquent advocate for the health of all Americans.”
Ashcroft, however, portrayed Satcher as outside mainstream America. In addition to Satcher’s refusal to support a ban on partial-birth abortion, the possible candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2000 cited the following reasons for his opposition:
— The nominee’s endorsement of needle-exchange programs for drug users;
— Satcher’s support of condom distribution to minors;
— As CDC director, his endorsement of research that refused to inform parents when their newborns tested positive for HIV;
— His support of CDC-sponsored research in Africa on women and infants infected with HIV that used a control group receiving no treatment.
“America’s ‘family doctor’ shouldn’t be associated with partial-birth abortion, free needles for drug users or unethical medical research in the U.S. and Africa,” Ashcroft said in a written statement after the vote. “Sadly, Dr. Satcher’s confirmation has put politics above public health.”
The week before the vote, Ashcroft said in a written release, “A number of Republicans have asked me to drop my objections to Dr. Satcher. Ironically, they were some of the same individuals who counseled silence on the situation” involving scandalous allegations against the president, he said.
“It is time for our leaders to worry less about politics and more about the country, less about what is right for the party and more about teaching our kids what’s right and what’s wrong. Morality is not divisible. It is not divisible by any man, any woman, president or doctor.”
Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating allegations Clinton had an ongoing sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and urged her to deny it. While most Republicans have remained silent, Ashcroft is among those who have called on the president to level with the public.
“Whatever one believes about the president’s private life, there can be no doubt about one thing — there is a crisis of moral leadership in the White House,” said Will Dodson, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The Satcher appointment is one more irrefutable example of that. The main function of the surgeon general is to pound the bully pulpit. Dr. Satcher will use that pulpit to defend among other things the president’s veto of the ban on partial-birth abortion, a procedure which is so despicable that it is difficult to imagine how any person could argue for its protection.
“On matters of morality, there can simply be no compromise. The time has come — indeed it is far past the time — for leaders in the public square to take a stand for traditional standards of decency.”
Clinton twice has vetoed a prohibition on partial-birth abortion, a procedure normally done in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy in which a baby is nearly totally delivered before his skull is pierced by scissors and his brains suctioned out.
Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., was Satcher’s main Republican advocate in the Senate. While he said he disagreed with Satcher on partial-birth abortion, Frist said he could “think of no one better qualified to be surgeon general,” according to The Washington Times. Among the Republicans who voted for Satcher were some normally considered as conservatives, such as Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Satcher served as president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville before being appointed head of the CDC by Clinton in 1993.
Foster’s nomination ran aground over such issues as how many abortions he had performed as an obstetrician and his support for contraceptive distribution to minors without parental consent.
Clinton fired Elders after she suggested teaching children about masturbation. She also was frequently under fire for her support of abortion rights, sex education and condom distribution.