Foster decries teen births Clinton nominee for surgeon general blames conservatives

Says they preach against sex ed

He attributes high rate of pregnancies to lack of information

July 09, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Dr. Henry Foster, President Clinton's never-withdrawn nominee for surgeon general, told a Baltimore audience yesterday that efforts to bring down the U.S. teen pregnancy rate are being hampered by a "conservative element" that "preaches that knowledge is dangerous."

Foster, whose nomination was derailed by a Republican-led filibuster last year over his performing of abortions, said teachers are "browbeaten and harassed" when they try to teach adolescents about sexuality.

Partly as a result, he said, the U.S. teen birth and abortion rates remain many times higher than in other industrialized nations -- even those where girls on average become sexually active at an earlier age. In most of those countries, "family life" programs are integral parts of elementary and secondary school curriculum, he said.

Foster was the keynote speaker at a national conference on adolescent pregnancy and parenthood sponsored by the Child Welfare League of America at Cross Keys Inn. He advocated a "holistic" approach that emphasizes abstinence with younger teens but provides contraceptive services to girls who already are sexually active.

He noted that the problem of teen pregnancy reaches far beyond the African-American community in the center cities. The adolescent pregnancy rate among white Americans alone is still far higher than in any European nation, he said.

"It's a problem for everybody in this country," he said.

The federal government reported last month that the birth rate for teens was 58.9 births per 1,000 girls in 1994, down from 59.6 in 1993. In Maryland, the rate for the same age group was 48.4 per thousand in 1994, compared with 48.7 the previous year.

Despite the decline, Foster said American teens still are having about 500,000 babies and 500,000 abortions each year. "It's like someone who's bleeding a pint an hour. You get them down to four-tenths of a pint, you've still got a problem," he said after the speech.

Foster serves as senior adviser to Clinton on teen pregnancy and youth issues. The post of surgeon general is vacant because Clinton has declined to submit a new nomination.

Several hundred social workers, medical professionals and educators received Foster's message enthusiastically as he linked the nation's high teen pregnancy rate to the broader problem of poverty and substandard health care among American children.

"Surely if every criminal in this country deserves a lawyer, then every baby deserves a doctor," he said.

Pub Date: 7/09/96

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