Panel OKs Sullivan After Apology for Abortion Flap : Critics of Nominee Soothed

From Times wire services

The Senate Finance Committee voted 17 to 0 today to confirm the nomination of Dr. Louis W. Sullivan as secretary of health and human services after he apologized before the panel for having "misspoken" when he discussed his position on abortion last month.

Sullivan today testified that he opposes abortion except in three circumstances.

"I am opposed to abortion, except when the life of the mother is threatened, or cases of rape or incest," Sullivan told the committee.

Sullivan apologized to Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) for having "misspoken" when they discussed Sullivan's views on abortion last month.

"I support a human life amendment, embracing the exceptions just noted. Like President Bush, I would welcome a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade," the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion, he said.

Packwood, a pro-choice advocate, said that although he disagrees with Sullivan's position on abortion, he will support his nomination. He said the important decisions concerning abortion will be made in Congress and the courts, not at HHS, which spends only a small fraction of its funds on abortions.

'Whale of a Guy'

"I think you're a whale of a guy," Packwood said.

One member of the panel, Sen. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) replied "present" when the vote was taken.

Sullivan said that he would work to encourage adoption and other alternatives to abortion.

Abortion opponents were upset when Packwood reported that Sullivan had told him during a meeting last month that the nominee favored retaining the Supreme Court abortion ruling. Before his nomination, Sullivan was quoted in an Atlanta newspaper as saying he favored a woman's right to abortion.

Anti-abortion activists demanded assurances from the Bush Administration that Sullivan's policies would follow those of the President on abortion, and he later asked the White House to nominate three administrators known for their anti-abortion views to top positions at the agency.

Despite the controversy, the confirmation of Sullivan, the only black Bush has nominated to his Cabinet, appears to be a certainty. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on Tuesday.

Concern Over Finances

Sullivan's hearing was postponed three weeks ago because an FBI background investigation was incomplete and questions remained about his finances. But two weeks ago he put to rest concerns about conflicts of interest when he decided to forfeit nearly $300,000 in severance pay due him if he cut his ties with the Morehouse School of Medicine, the Atlanta medical school he founded and has served as president.

Committee members today said it was unfair for Sullivan, who would make $89,500 as a Cabinet officer, to give up benefits he earned from years of service to the school. Packwood said attorneys would study the law and Sullivan's contract to determine "whether he would have to lose" the severance money.

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