Opponents of abortion, some invoking images of genocide and warning of the wrath of God, packed a hearing room today to oppose an attempt to liberalize Medicaid funding of abortion in Virginia.
The opponents, some of whom were bused here from television evangelist Jerry Falwell's Lynchburg church and wore "Jesus First" buttons, spoke against allowing state funding in cases of rape, incest or where a doctor certifies an "abnormal" birth is likely.
Current Virginia Medicaid regulations, which are among the most restrictive in the nation, allow payments only in cases of "substantial endangerment . . . of the life of the mother." The state Board of Health, which held today's hearing, has been asked by proabortion forces to liberalize those rules.
The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, one of the groups favoring the rule expansion, said the change would affect only 60 to 80 cases per year in the state. But that did not stop more than 150 opponents from packing the hearing and labeling Medicaid abortion payments as "blood money."
"It's kind of like genocide," warned Lois S. Hurdle of Virginia Beach. "The same thing happened in Germany in the late 1930s. They went abortion crazy . . . it could destroy our society."
"It is abhorrent to return a human being to God as readily as we would return an imperfect car to Detroit," said Maureen H. Whalen, a Chesapeake housewife. "It is deserving of God's wrath."
Many of the opponents are members of or closely aligned to the "pro-family" evangelical movement that lately has flexed its political muscles both in this state and nationally. Others, including the bishops of the Catholic dioceses of Richmond and Arlington, are members of traditional religious groups that have historically opposed abortion.
Nearly a half dozen state legislators also appeared at the day-long hearing to oppose the proposed rule change, noting that the General Assembly two years ago rejected a similar effort to liberalize the Medicaid statutes.
The opponents all but overwhelmed the handful of speakers who supported the rule change and who argued that the issue before the board was not abortion itself but the rights of Medicaid recipients.
"Medicaid is our society's way of extending access to necessary treatment to all our citizens," said Judy Goldberg of the American Civil Liberties Union. "To deny Medicaid reimbursement for a legal medical procedure is, in effect, to deny treatment to the poor which is readily available to the rich."
Sally Camp of Planned Parenthood, commenting on the proposal to fund abortions in cases of rape and incest, argued "to refuse funds for these procedures is simply to blame the victims for crimes committed by another."
The board made no decision on the proposal today but may vote on the rule at its Sept. 22 meeting. Should the board approve the new rule, opponents say they will take their case to Gov. John N. Dalton, who has veto power over state Medicaid rule changes and who has close political ties to Falwell and other evangelical conservatives
Larry E. Murphy, Dalton's senior execute assistant, said today the governor had not made up his mind on the proposal and would not consider it until the board has acted.