The District's $1.4 billion 1980 budget, delayed for several months by anti-abortion advocates, won final passage in Congress yesterday after surviving an attack by senators who favor the use of federal funds to finance abortions for poor women.
The 64-19 vote to approve the budget was helped by D.C. Major Marion Barry's decision to accept restrictions, imposed by the House last week that prohibit the use of federal funds for abortions except when the mother's life is in danger, or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. m
The bill, which provides funds for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, now goes to President Carter for his signature.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate District appropriations subcommittee, said that "if the Senate were voting on any bill other than the District's budget," he would oppose its passage because of the abortion language. But he said delaying the budget's adoption would be "just one more way of forcing our will on this hybrid home rule" in the District.
"I can understand the frustrations of Mayor Barry, who wants passage of the first budget prepared by his administration," Leahy said.
Leahy placed in the record a letter to him from Barry, in which the mayor said, "while we would prefer the District appropriations to be free of any such restrictions, the language as approved by the House of Representatives is acceptable to us . . . In the spirit of compromise, I request you support the House-approved language and recommend its approval to the Senate."
The fiscal 1980 budget represents about a $100 million increase over the fiscal 1979 spending level. The fiscal 1980 federal payment to the District will be $238.2 million, compared with $235 million last year.
The roll call vote was demanded by Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), who made an impassioned plea to his colleagues to stop attaching abortion language to money matters.
Calling abortion "the greatest non-issue in the country today," Weicker said, "we're going to start the ball going in the other direction."
Weicker argued that abortion is not among "the first 20 issues of concern" to the average citizen, but that it has been repeatedly brought up in Congress by a few members who listen to "mobs who come here using roses (a symbol of anti-abortion forces) as baseball bats."
Abortion, is a religious issue, Weicker said, "and it's not my job to take up the slack for someone who can't do his job in the church pulpit on Sunday . . . . The only obligation I've got to any religion is to reaffirm (its) right to practice, not to translate the laws of the country to conform to any faith. Political consequences be damned."
Anti-abortion advocates should "stop sneaking around" the question by attaching amendments to appropriations bills, Weicker went on. If they want to make abortion a crime, he said, they should try to "pass a law making it a crime for rich and poor."
Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), ranking minority member of the District appropriations subcommittee, said he also was uncomfortable with the abortion language. But he told his colleagues the compromise with the House also held "some good news."
Mathias noted that while the final appropriations was $11 million less than that passed by the Senate, it was about $46 million more than the House had originally approved. The compromise version includes additional funds for D.C. General Hospital, the City Council and the Department of Human Resources, Mathias said.
Senate passage was smoothed by the dicision of several organizations, including Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League, to bow to the home rule pleas of the city government and to not press the Senate to oppose any restrictions on the use of money for abortions. p
"We wanted to consider all the factors and follow the most politically reasonable route," said Brenda Bregnan of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. In this instance, that meant backing off just as the groups began observing Abortion Rights Action Week throughout the nation.