State Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) says he still can't understand why former Gov. John N. Dalton last year vetoed two narrowly drawn bills that would allow a handful of poor women in Virginia to obtain government-funded abortions.
After the bills passed the legislature, Glasscock organized a hearing for Dalton's benefit. A young mother broke down in tears recounting the trauma she and her family suffered when, unable to finance an abortion, she delivered a grossly deformed child who died almost immediately after birth.
"How the governor could listen to that story and veto those bills is beyond me," said Glasscock, a gentle, soft-spoken lawyer from Southside Virginia who has made the volatile issue of Medicaid-funded abortions a personal crusade. His efforts have made him the focus of an all-out lobbying effort by the Moral Majority, the Catholic Church and other antiabortion groups.
This year, Glasscock is trying again. His bills emerged intact from the House of Delegates last week and today they came sailing out of a Senate committee on a 10-to-4 vote. The vote on the Senate floor next week is expected to be close--just as it was last year when then Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb broke a tie and sent the legislation to the governor.
Robb now is governor and if the bills get to his desk, he has promised to sign them. But the petitions, postcards and telephone calls are already inundating the state Senate as opponents rally against what Moral Majority leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell calls "the first step down the road" to state-funded abortions on demand.
In a recent letter that reached at least 5,000 members of the Virginia chapter of Moral Majority, Falwell urged his followers to get organized. "We must not let this happen in Virginia," he said, "Pro-abortion groups are lobbying your state senator intensely and he must hear from you immediately."
The bills at issue are, as Glasscock has repeated over and over again, "extremely restrictive," allowing Medicaid-financed abortions only in cases where the mother has been the victim of rape or incest or is carrying a fetus diagnosed to have a "gross and incapacitating" mental or physical deformity.
The state Health Department estimates that only 20 women who are eligible for Medicaid would fall into these categories--at an estimated annual cost to the state government of approximately $5,000.
'We are not talking about anything monstrous," said Glasscock, "but it's something very important to those 20 cases and those people don't have much clout."
The issue of Medicaid-funding of abortion arose in Virginia, as it did in all 50 states, in 1977 when Congress enacted legislation banning federal funding of abortions except when the mother's life is in danger. The impact has been dramatic: Virginia helped finance 4,600 abortions in 1977, compared to 80 in 1980, according to the Health Department.
Only nine states and the District of Columbia have chosen to go beyond the federal rules, some to make abortions available to all poor women, others in limited circumstances. Five other states have been ordered by local courts to broaden Medicaid abortion coverage.
In 1977, the Virginia Board of Health opted to provide Medicaid-funded abortions in cases where a mother's health was "substantially affected." Three years later, when it tried to include pregnancies caused by rape or incest, Dalton vetoed the move.
Opponents this year are prepared to fight hardest in the Senate, although the bill allowing abortions in cases of gross fetal abnormality passed the House by a one-vote margin.
Some groups--particularly in Northern Virginia--have sent in petitions. Several, with about 2,000 signatures, began arriving two weeks ago in the office of Sen. Clive DuVal III (D-Fairfax), along with scores of postcards,some unsigned. All carried an identical message: "I do not want any of my tax dollars used for abortion."
The opponents have disputed the state's figures and have argued that by extending abortions to victims of statutory rape-consentual sex involving a girl 14 years or younger-the state is 'condoning' teenage sex.
"The thing we're so disturbed about is that there's such dishonesty here," said Janis Sumpter of Midlothian, an antiabortion activist. "We're becoming a society of pragmatists. What we're saying is, if it's efficient, it's moral. It's such a farce."
Several years ago, a broader bill, making abortion available to all Medicaid recipients, almost made it through the legislature. Glasscock says he, for one, would not attempt to go beyond the narrow confines of his own legislation. As it is, "I apologize to my friends for putting them on the spot but the matter is important," he says.
"Some people say I'm either courageous or crazy," said the 50-year-old lawyer, who once practiced with former Gov. Mills E. Godwin. "It's an area that's difficult to deal in. This is tough. There is a lot of human suffering involved."