Republican gubernatorial candidate John N. Dalton said yesterday that he opposes use of Virginia taxpayer funds to help pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the pregnant women.
In Virginia, the services provided to indigent persons under the federal-state Medicaide program must be approved by the governor. It appears likely that a gubernatorial decision on non therapeutic abortions - those not needed to save a life - will have to be made either in the waning days of the administration of Gov. Mills E. Godwin or very early in the term of the governor who will take office on Jan. 14.
The state Board of Health last Friday voted tentatively to stop providing elective abortions under the Medicaid program. After a required public hearing, the board could make a final decision on the proposal as early as Nov. 30. Some time after that, the issue would be submitted to the governor.
Dalton, now lieutenant governor, stated his position on abortion aid in answer to a question at a press conference in Springfield. His Democratic opponent, former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell, was campaigning in Charlottesville yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for questioning.
Dalton said, "I would not be in favor of putting any money in the budget for the Medicaid payments for that purpose. I just don't feel that is the place we need to be spending the taxpayers' money."
Dalton declined to state his personal beliefs about abortion decisions should be left to women and their physicians. "That's a matter between the lady and her doctor," he said.
Dalton's opposition to use of tax funds for nontherapeutic abortions is identical to the view of President Carter and U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr.
Califano last month ordered an end to use of U.S. funds for elective abortions in compliance with an HEW budget restriction approved by Congress. Imposition of the abortion aid ban had been delayed for a year by a federal court injunction.
Dr. Freeman C. Hays, Virginia Medicaid director, estimated in an interview yesterday that the program paid for about 2,500 nontherapeutic abortions last year. Hays said about 23,000 abortions were performed in Virginia last year on private and Medicaid patients combined.
The state pays a maximum of $125 for an abortion not involving complications, Hays said. The federal government normally pays 90 per cent of Medicaid costs, but the state has been paying all of the elective abortion costs since the federal aid ban was imposed.
Elimination of aid for elective abortions is not expected by health officials to reduce the overall Medicaid bill because it will likely result in offsetting costs for childbirth and other medical services.