There were grisly tales of unsuccessful abortions, threats of a taxpayers revolt and predictions of genocide of the poor yesterday as Maryland's House of Delegates took up the volatile issue of state funding of abortions.
Nearly 300 spectators packed a hearing of a House committee and listened to speakers assail and support a bill that would stop use of state Medicaid funds for abortions, except when "medically necessary to save the life of the mother."
The intensely emotional issue prompted several outbursts of applause and occasional catcalls from a mostly female audience divided between antiabortion advocates wearing red plastic roses and proabortion proponents who wore pale blue paper signs.
Del. Patricia Aiken (D-Anne Arundel), a committee member, angrily stalked out of the hearing after Del. Steven V. Sklar (D-Baltimore) portrayed the issue in economic terms. He said cost of abortions to the state are less than the welfare costs of caring for unwanted children of women unable to pay for abortions.
"If your mother had an abortion and placed that money ($230 now needed for a Medicaid abortion) in the bank when you were a fetus, that would have saved taxpayers money too," declared Miken just before leaving the crowded joint hearing room.
The House bill, which has 40 sponsors, is one of the most sensitive of the session. Its outcome cold play a role in this year's election, especially among Catholic voters who generally oppose abortion on religious grounds and antiwelfare voters.
The question of using state funds to pay for abortions of the needy has become important since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that states are not constitutionally required to spend Medicaid money for nontherapeutic abortions.
When the federal government decided to cut off most of its funding for abortions, Maryland's health department announced plans to make up the difference. This year, the state expects to spend $1.4 million for about 5,000 abortions.
The arguments at yesterday's hearing fell into two general categories: the effect of abortion on the poor and the effect of abortion on the state treasury. Opponents often used the same arguments to support different positions.
Del. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's), the bill's primary sponsor, testified that "it is utterly unjust" for the state to tax citizens who oppose abortion. "Using my tax dollars for abortion makes me an accomplice to taking human life," he said.
After a Potomac man threatened to withhold his taxes "if they are used for murder," Del. Sklar made his presentation, a warning that the state would spend $60 to $80 million in welfare expenses to care for children born to mothers who could not afford abortions. If the Green bill became law.
"How much will this bill cost the taxpayers?" Sklar asked. "In this sensitive year, my colleagues, that's what really matters."
The question of abortion as a social policy was hotly debated, with the bill's proponents arguing that the government uses abortion to eliminate children of the poor and opponents saying that stopping state funds would force needy women to have unwanted children they cannot afford or seek illegal abortions from "back-alley butchers."
Two women on different sides of the issue told poignant stories of their personal experiences with abortion to illustrate the dangers of the surgical procedure.
Joan Garrity, 29, of Baltimore, who opposes the bill, described the effects of an illegal abortion she received 11 years ago. After two weeks of painful cramping and bleeding she said, she was hospitalized and found to have had an incomplete abortion.
A 16-year-old high school student from Rockville, who favors the bill, said her older sister was so "badly butchered" at a legal abortion clinic that she was hospitalized and told by her doctor that she may be sterile as a result of the procedure.