Thousands of poor women will continue to obtain legal abortions, even if the District of Columbia is barred from using city money to pay for them, according to the directors of three private clinics that performed most of the city-financed abortions last year.
"We would work out a way to continue providing abortions to women who cannot afford to pay for them," said Myra King, director of the Preterm Reproductive Health Center, one of the city's major abortion clinics.
King said Preterm, which charges $175 for an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, could probably find a way to cut its fee in half for the poor. In addition, she said, some abortions could be provided free of charge.
House and Senate conferees, working out the details of the District's fiscal 1980 budget, have clashed over the issue of city funding of abortions for the poor. The conferees yesterday sent the matter back to the House for reconsideration; that body has voted to deny the District the use of its own money to pay for such abortions.
The District government has been paying about $2 million a year for abortions for approximately 5,800 poor women.
City officials have predicted it would cost the D.C. and federal governments $11.3 million in additional welfare payments to care for those 5,800 women and the same number of babies from conception through their first three months.
Albert P. Russo, director of the city's Department of Human Resources, said yesterday that the elimination of free abortions for the poor could result in a higher infant mortality rate, more instances of child abuse and more children becoming wards of the city.
But city financial projects are based on the premise that no poor women would be able to obtain legal abortions; those who provide that service say that won't happen.
"I am doing free abortions because we don't need any more" illegitimate children, said Dr. Ilan Vutich, who describes himself as "the guy who got the first Medicaid payment [in the District for an abortion."]
Vuitch, who said he performed about 3,000 abortions last year, a third of them for Medicaid recipients, said he'll accept whatever a woman can pay as his fee.
Area clinics already have helped poor women from Virginia obtain abortions since Congress in 1977 barred the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for the procedure. Maryland has continued to provide state funds for abortions in some cases, but Virginia has not.
The Hillcrest abortion clinic in Southeast Washington is among those providing abortions at a reduced rate for poor Virginia women.
"We generally charge whatever the woman can come up with," generally about half the usual $150 fee, said Sandra Savarese, administrator of the clinic.
Savarese said "it's hard to say" what Hillcrest, a profit-making facility, would do if Congress prohibited the city from funding abortions, but "we would be in a position where we would have to respond." The clinic provided 1,740 abortions for the poor last year.
Before the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States, a safe abortion usually was out of the financial reach of a woman on welfare.
Savarese acknowledged that for many Medicaid recipients $75 -- the half-price cost of an abortion -- "might as well be $2,000." She estimated that about half of those now obtaining legal abortions would be unable to do so if the funds were held up.
Illegal abortions are available for about $35 in the District, she said. "Most of the recipients seeking D.C. Medicaid abortions are young and have very little experience. They don't know you can shop for medical services and are unlikely to find a reduced-rate aborton at a legal clinic."