(Editor's Note: Clarifies 9th graph, regarding Dean's requirements to practice internal medicine.)
(CNSNews.com) - As the current frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and the only physician in the field of candidates, has been clear about his support for abortion rights, but adamant that he never performed an abortion himself.
"I did not perform abortions. I'm a medical doctor. Nor did my wife," Dean told a Boston television station in July. Dean's wife Judith also is a physician.
Yet, Dean's extensive ties to the Northern New England chapter of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., including his internship and work as a contract obstetrician/gynecologist at one of the group's Vermont clinics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, are producing more questions about the nature of that involvement at a time when Planned Parenthood was cementing its role as America's largest abortion provider.
While Dean may not find his Planned Parenthood connections too politically damaging in Iowa and New Hampshire, site of the nation's first two major political contests, he could face some fallout in the crucial Feb. 3 Democratic primary in South Carolina, where voters are more culturally conservative.
Dean has been one of the Democratic field's most vocal supporters of legalized abortion, including the procedure known as partial birth abortion, which Congress and President Bush moved to ban this year until three federal judges blocked the ban from taking effect.
On Nov. 6, the day the president signed the ban, Dean called it a "dark day for American women, who are seeing their reproductive freedoms restricted by a President acting in concert with a right wing congress.
"As this controversy moves to the judicial system," Dean's statement continued, "we are reminded anew of the importance of electing a pro-choice president next year."
Dean's experience with Planned Parenthood
Dean conducted his three-year residency at a teaching facility called the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont (now called Fletcher Allen Hospital) in Burlington beginning in 1978. During this time, in 1978 or 1979, according to Barrie-Hope Silver, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in Williston, Vt., Dean also served as an intern in an OB/GYN rotation at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Burlington. Silver was unable to pinpoint the exact date.
Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right To Life Committee Inc., has researched Dean's involvement with Planned Parenthood and told CNSNews.com that Dean filled the non-mandated OB/GYN shift during his residency schedule despite the fact that it was not required to practice internal medicine.
"The OB/GYN rotation is not required for [his degree]. He wanted to add that," Hahn Beerworth said.
CNSNews.com has also learned that Dean continued as a physician at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Burlington after his internship ended. Silver, the marketing director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), said Dean "was employed as a contract physician for PPNNE, providing routine GYN care and medical consults."
Dean further served on the organization's board of trustees between 1980 and 1984 as well as on PPNNE's medical advisory committee. On his presidential campaign website, Dean declares that he is "proud to have served as a Board Member of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
"I understand women's health, and I will defend the right of women to control decisions about their bodies," Dean says in the campaign statement.
As governor -- Dean was the state's chief executive between 1991 and 2003 -- he helped secure $350,000 a year in taxpayer funds for the Planned Parenthood chapter, according to Hahn Beerworth and the state's financial support of Planned Parenthood continues in 2003, she said.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England honored Dean in 1992 while he was governor by awarding him the organization's Margaret Sanger award, named for the group's founder. PPNNE called the award its "highest honor," and praised Dean for his work on behalf of reproductive health care and abortion rights.
PPNNE, which includes Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, grossed $14.7 million in 2001 according to the group's 990 tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The national organization, through its state chapters, dispenses contraceptives and women's health services in addition to serving as the nation's largest abortion services provider.
Vermont, Dean and abortion
A Vermont court ordered abortions legalized in 1972, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedures nationwide. Planned Parenthood of Vermont, as it was then called, began offering abortions in 1978 at its clinic in Rutland, about an hour from where Dean worked in Burlington, according to documents provided to CNSNews.com by Planned Parenthood.
The clinic where Dean interned and later worked as a contract physician began performing abortions in 1982, Silver said. It is unclear when Dean's work as a contract physician for Planned Parenthood ended.
While Dean has denied ever performing an abortion, one of his past opponents in the race for governor, Republican Ruth Dwyer, believes the Democratic presidential candidate may not be completely forthcoming.
While admitting that she has no first-hand knowledge, Dwyer told CNSNews.com that, "I have a hard time believing [he did not ever perform an abortion], just knowing Howard." Dwyer ran unsuccessfully against Dean for governor in 1998 and 2000.
"To have him refuse [performing an abortion] would not make any sense to it at all," Dwyer said, noting Dean's support for legalized abortion. As for Dean's past involvement with Planned Parenthood, Dwyer added, "I can't imagine him not being offered the opportunity [to perform an abortion]."
But Judy Wechsler, a retired physician's assistant who worked with Dean in 1980 at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Burlington, Vt., said that since the facility where Dean worked did not offer abortion services, "that would not have been part of his clinical practice."
Asked whether she was aware of Dean performing or assisting in an abortion, Wechsler told CNSNews.com, "Not to my knowledge." She also had no knowledge of whether Dean's work as an intern or contract physician with Planned Parenthood would have taken him to the clinic in Rutland where abortions were performed.
Wechsler did say Dean would have likely offered referrals to young women seeking abortions, however.
"Planned Parenthood is an organization that provides a variety of OB/GYN family planning and women's health services and as a physician at that point of time (1980) [Dean] certainly would have been involved with the care of women who were facing the crisis of unintended pregnancies or perhaps a history of sexual abuse, a variety of difficult life situations," Wechsler explained.
"He certainly would have been prepared to provide counseling for women under those circumstances and his counseling would have included an array of what we call 'options counseling' for women facing an unintended pregnancy," she added.
Mark Crutcher, founder and president of the Texas-based pro-life group, Life Dynamics, found Dean's denial of having ever performed an abortion enlightening because the former governor seemed to imply that "medical doctors" would not be associated with abortions.
Noting that Dean had said, "I did not perform abortions, I'm a medical doctor," Crutcher told CNSNews.com , "I find it interesting that even these radical pro-abortionists who think abortion is just a great idea don't want to be associated with it."
"People in the medical community know that people that provide abortions are the scum, the washouts and the losers of medicine. What these people know is that abortion is the red light district of medicine, Crutcher said.
Other pro-life leaders are calling Dean's ties to Planned Parenthood unprecedented for a presidential candidate.
"His connection to the abortion industry is quite thick," said Michele Morin, the political committee chairman for the Vermont Right to Life Committee.
Several telephone attempts to Dean's campaign headquarters, seeking comment for this story, were not returned.
With six weeks until the Iowa Caucuses, Dean has forged a lead over his Democratic rivals. He also holds a huge lead over the other candidates in New Hampshire, site of the nation's first meaningful primary. But cultural issues like abortion and homosexuality are not as important in those states as they are in South Carolina, which plays host to the most important of several Democratic primaries on Feb. 3. A new Zogby poll, released Friday, showed Dean pulling in front of his rivals in South Carolina as well. Recent polls had listed him in third place.
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Dean, speaking from South Carolina, deflected any questions about abortion. However, he recently told an audience at a campaign stop that he was "tired of coming to the South and fighting elections on God, guns and gays.
"We're going to fight this election on our turf, which is going to be jobs, education and health care," Dean told the campaign crowd.
But Judie Brown, president of the Virginia-based American Life League, said Dean is the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in U.S. history.
"There have been so many [candidates] avidly in favor of abortion, like Bill Clinton, but nobody that I know of who ever ran for president was a medical intern at Planned Parenthood," Brown told CNSNews.com.
Brown called Planned Parenthood "the world's leading proponent of abortion. So [Dean] has a very unique distinction," she added.
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