The House Committee on Environmental Matters yesterday rejected a bill that would have prohibited state-funded abortions for Medicaid patients in the first test of legislative sentiment on the emotional abortion issue this year.
The 13-8 vote against the measure was repeated when the committee rejected another resolution backed by the anti-abortion lobby that called for a national constitutional convention to deal with the legality of abortion.
Del. Leo Green (D-Prince George's), chief sponsor of the defeated state funding prohibition measure, appeared stunned by the committee action. "I'm not completely disheartened," said Green, "but I thought for sure we had the 11 votes (the number required for passage). I don't know what happened."
Green said he will attempt to bring the bill to the House floor Tuesday despite the unfavorable committee report. That will require the consent of Del. John S. Arnick, chairman of the environmental committee, and a majority vote from delegates at that day's session.
"It's going to be close on the floor," most of our effort into the committee vote, but we're not dead."
One member of the committee who was expected by some anti-abortion lobbyist to support their bill was Del. Mildred Harkness (D-Prince George's) a freshman legislator from the 22nd district. "if Leo though I was with him," Harkness said last night, "Then he has trouble understanding the English language."
Harkness said she opposed the bill because, along with prohibiting abortions for Medicaid recipients, it also attempted to redefine the beginning of life.
"Up until this time it was the accepted notion that abortions before a given time were not the taking of life," said Harkness. "This bill specified that life began with conception. That would make it criminal to use certain birth control procedurs, such as the IUD."
The question of government-funded abortions for the poor has been debated in Washington and at statehouses around the country since the Supreme Court ruled last year that, while those who can afford it have the right to non-therapeutic abortions, the federal or state governments can refuse to pay for abortions for Medicaid patients.
The federal government, subsequently decided to deny abortion funding for such welfare recipients, as did several states, including neighboring Virginia. Naryland chose to continue abortion funding unless the General Assembly mandated otherwise.
Dr. Neil Solomon, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, has been outspoken in his support for abortion funding. "The persons who would suffer if this bill were to be passed would be the traditional victims of our society - the poor, the undereducated, in many instances the young, and in all instances women," Solomon said.
The recorded roll call vote, which has become mandatory in committees for the first time this year, showed that all three Prince George's delegates on the environmental committee voted against Green's bill, as Dels. Kay Bienan and Craig Knoll joined Harkness in opposition. From Montgomery County, Sheila Hixson opposed the bill, while Judith Toth and S. Frank Shore supported it.