A Virginia House committee approved legislation yesterday that would restore state financing of abortions for indigent women and reverse actions by the State Board of Health and Gov. John N. Dalton against such payments.
The measure, proposed by Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) and approved by the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee on a 13-to-7 vote, now goes to the full House, where it is expected to encounter opposition.
Three related measures, which would restore state funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest or where the mother's physical or mental well-being is threatened, have been held back until the fate of Stambaugh's bill is known.
The State Board of Health voted last year to stop paying for abortions except in cases where the life of the mother was in danger. That action was opposed by the staff of the health department and the governor's Medicare-Medicaid Advisory Board, but upheld last month by Dalton.
The committee vote came without debate yesterday following a report from a subcommittee that vote 4 to 1 to approve the bill. During an emotional public hearing last week, opponents of the bill charged that abortion is murder and that state-funded abortions are racist because they are aimed at diminshing the black population.
Supporters of the measure say that abortion is a legal medical procedure that should not be denied to poor people when more affluent women can get them and that denying poor women the right to an abortion will force them to go to "black-alley" abortionists.
Health, Welfare and Institutions is scheduled to consider two resolutions on Thursday dealing with a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban abortions. One, proposed by Del. Robert Thoburn (R-Fairfax), asks for a constitutional convention to pass such as amendment: the other, proposed by Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax), asks Congress to do it.
In another matter, a handful of senators charged their mind on a bill creating a state secretary of natural resources and another one for agricultural and economic natural resources resources. Their turnaround led to Senate passage of the bill and sent it to the House.
The bill, which Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) called "an important part of the state government reorganization package, passed by a 22-to-18 vote.
The two new cabinet level secretaries created by the bill would replace the presence secretary of commerce and resources, when the state reorganization commission said "has neither the time, nor the expertise, to adequately deal with all the matters assigned to him.
The bill that would create the two new secretaries came before the Senate on a previous occasion and was voted down, 21 to 18. Through a parliamentary maneuver, it was sent back to committee, modified somewhat to placate opponents, and then brought to the floor yesterday for a second chance. Sen. William B. Hopkins (D-Roanoke), who headed the reorganiation commission and sponsored the bill, said the two new secretaries would not require more funds or more personnel.
Brault named three senators who changed their vote: Peter K. Babalas (D-Norfolk), Joseph T. Fitzpatrick (D-Norfolk) and A. Joe Canada Jr. (R-Virginia Beach). The majority leader said the bill's prospects were enhanced by adding language that would limit the appropriation for the office of secretary of natural resources to the same amount given for the state Council on the Environment, which would be replaced by the new position.
Supporters of the Hopkins bill said it would strengthen the state's hand in environmental affairs and also mean that there would be a cabinet-level secretary devoted full time to economic development.