The White House said Tuesday President Clinton remained solidly behind his choice for surgeon general, Henry Foster, despite a storm over abortions carried out by the Tennessee physician.

"The support is unqualified," White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said on NBC's "Today" program.He said that Clinton's position, contrary to an impression left by the president Monday, was not conditional on how many abortions Foster had performed during his 30-year career as an obstetrician and gynecologist.

Clinton had told reporters he would stick with Foster "if the facts are as I understand them to be." He commented after anti-abortion groups circulated putative transcripts of a 1978 hearing purporting to show that Foster had been heavily involved in abortions.

Last week, Foster said he had done fewer than a dozen abortions. He said he had always counseled abstinence as part of his efforts to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies.