An amendment to the proposed Maryland budget that would sharply restrict state financing of abortions for Medicaid recipients was approved last night by the House of Delegates.
After rejecting two even more restrictive amendments during an emotional two-hour debate, the House voted 71 to 64 to prohibit state-funded abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered, the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape, or the mother would face serious and long-lasting health problems if the pregnancy went to full-term.
These restrictions are identical to the guideliness set down by the U.S. government last year and, according to supporters of the move, similar to abortion requirements adopted by more than 30 other states since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the states do not have to use Medicaid funds for abortions.
The adortion amendment must be approved by the state Senate before it becomes law. Acting Gov. Blair lee III, who has said he would prefer to keep funds in the budget to pay for abortions for indigent women, does not have the power to alter the decision of the General Assembly on a budget amendment.
The final vote on the amendment culminated a month-long battle on the controversial issue, which found anti-abortion bills killed several times and then resurrected.A House bill sponsored by Del. Leo E. Green (D-Prince Georges), would have accomplished the same thing as the amendment approved last night, but was killed by a committee and the House several weeks ago. The primary reason Green's bill was killed by the House, according to several delegates, was that many members did not want to overrule the decision of the committee.
Before finally approving the measure last night, the House rejected two more restrictive amendments. The first, sponsored by Del. B. W. (Mike) Donovan (D-Prince George's), would have permitted Medicaid abortions only when the mother's life was in danger. That amendment lost by two votes, 66 to 68. Two delegates who were said to support it, William Rush lon (D-Anne Arundel), had by then lon (DAnne Arundle), had by then left the State House to attend Rush's annual St. Patrick's Day party.
The issue inspired more than 20 delegates to partake in a debate that has been played out countless times in the General Assembly chambers over the last several years. Opponents, such as Del. Arthur G. Murphy (D-Baltimore City) said the action would discriminate against poor women unable to pay for legal, private abortions. "It comes down to a right to choose," said Murphy. "The freedom of choice should not be denied to only those women who don't have the funds."
Supporters of the amendment, such as Del. Joseph Owens (D-Montgomery), said the state had no business paying for abortions. "This doesn't stop the right to choose," said Owens, "it just says that if you are going to get one (an abortion) you've got to pay for it."