Gov. Harry R. Hughes today placed telephone calls to a half-dozen undecided legislators and dispatched his two top women aides to the House office building in a last-minute effort to stop the House of Delegates from further restricting state abortion funding for the poor.
As the governor and his assistants lobbied to retain funding for Medicaid abortions, Lt. Gov. Samuel W. Bogley, a staunch antiabortionist who pledged during the campaign that he would not publicly contradict Hughes' position, sat quietly in his second-floor office, obviously frustrated by his inability to say or do anything about the controversial issue.
"I'm trying to be a good lady-in-waiting," said Bogley. "That's the job, you know. I wish I could do something, but I can't."
The intense administration lobbying drive came a day before the House was scheduled to vote on an amednment to the state budget that would allow state Medicaid funds to be used for abortions only when necessary to save the mother's life, to prevent severe and long-lasting physical harm to the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape that has been promptly reported to police.
This amendment, much more restrictive than the current state guidelines on abortion funding for the poor, was approved by the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago by a vote of 13 to 8. According to supporters and opponents of the amendment, the House of Delegates appears so evenly divided on the issue that it could be decided by a margin of one or two votes either way.
Those few delegates who have not decided how to vote have been under intense pressure in recent weeks, not only from the Hughes administration but from hundreds of right-to-lifers and their "pro-choice" opponents who have come by the busload to the State House on a daily basis to argue for their causes. In every corridor of the government complex here, one can see men and women wearing yellow "Right to Choose" buttons and white "Right to Life" stickers.
"Those people have scared the hell out of everybody," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), a leader of the antiabortion drive in the House. "I know a lot of delegates who wished they didn't have to vote yes or no but could just take a walk... They're scared to death."
Maloney and his counterpart on the proabortion side, Del. Lorraine Sheehan (D-Prince George's), said in interviews today that their tentative vote counts show 70 delegates supporting the restrictive amendment and 70 opposing it, with perhaps 10 of the delegates listed on either side capable of changing their minds overnight.
Two delegates in the uncertain category -- Del. William Cox (D-Harford County) and Del. John Pica (D-Baltimore) -- demonstrated today just how tentative their positions were. In the morning, Cox told a reporter that he would oppose the restrictive amendment. Two hours later he said he had changed his mind. Pica told a proabortion lobbyist in the morning that he would support the amendment. By the afternoon he, too, had reversed himself.
The prolife delegates were particularly upset by the last-minute vote switching, so much so that some of them charged that Louise Keelty, Hughes' patronage secretary, was promising choice appointments to legislators in return for votes. "She's down here trading jobs for votes," fumed Maloney. "It's gross, just gross."
Maloney's accusation was denied by Keelty and the delegates she talked with today. "Louise just told me her pusition," said Pica. "I've known her for a long time and she's like a big sister to me. I can honestly say that she didn't mention any sort of trading. I don't think she'd know how to do that even if she wanted to."
Along will Hughes, Keelty and another gubernatorial assistant, former delegate Ann Hull, the pro-choice lobby has received assistant in recent days from former Senate President Steny H. Hoyer and Hoyer's one-time aide, Bruce Bereano. Hoyer has called several Prince George's delegates who appeared to be wavering on the issue. Bereano has served as a message carrier and vote tallier for the proabortion camp.