The Tennessee doctor nominated by President Clinton to become surgeon general provoked alarm and criticism among some Republicans on Friday when he said he had performed "fewer than a dozen" abortions during nearly 30 years of practice as an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Some Republicans whose initial response to the nomination was muted said the statement Friday raised questions both about the choice of Henry W. Foster Jr., the acting director of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and about the White House's handling of the matter.Sen. Daniel R. Coats, R-Ind., who is a member of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, which must consider the nomination, quickly issued a statement that labeled Foster "a former abortionist." He called Clinton's selection of him "highly, highly disturbing" and said it was now "sure to engender another battle."

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., who heads the committee, complained bitterly that Foster's nomination had been "poorly handled." An aide said she had questioned the White House earlier this week about Foster and had been assured that he had performed no more than one abortion.

Even though Senator Kassebaum is an advocate of abortion rights, her associates said Friday that she felt undercut by the White House in the face of expected opposition to the nomination by her more conservative Republican colleagues.

The White House acknowledged Friday night that an aide to Clinton had misinformed Senator Kassebaum about Foster's record but insisted that the statement had been inadvertent.

Administration officials said they had asked Foster to issue the statement in response to inquiries from reporters and to put information about the abortions into the broader context of his entire medical career, in which he has also delivered more than 10,000 babies.

The White House acknowledged that the abortions would become a focus of attention as the Senate considers the nomination, which has already drawn criticism from anti-abortion groups.

Foster, 61, has long served on the board of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, which provides abortion services. In his statement, he said his first priority in counseling teenagers has always been to stress abstinence as a means for avoiding pregnancy. And he repeated a formulation favored by Clinton in saying that he believed that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare."

The doctor, who was nominated by Clinton on Thursday, said he had performed abortions primarily in cases where a pregnancy was caused by rape or incest or in which the mother's life was in danger.

In the statement, Foster also said he had performed each procedure in a hospital, never in clinics whose primary function is to provide abortions.

Sen. Bob Dole, the Republican leader, was traveling Friday, and his office said he had no immediate comment about Foster's statement. But after expressing initial support for the choice of Foster on Thursday, Dole simply grinned and walked away later that day after being told that the nominee supported abortion services.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a surgeon who appeared at the White House on Thursday in support of the nomination, appeared Friday to take a half step away from it.

Asked whether the senator's position had changed since Foster acknowledged having performed abortions, a spokesman for Frist said, "Based on the information he has thus far, it has not."

It is not known exactly how many obstetricians in the United States do abortions. Many refuse to perform any abortions, and a small number make the procedure the focus of their practices. Advocates of abortion rights have complained for years that medical training programs do not offer adequate instruction in the procedure.