The Virginia Senate today gave final approval to two bills that would make state-funded abortions available to poor women in cases involving rape, incest or gross fetal abnormality.
The bills, which narrowly passed both houses, now go to Gov. Charles S. Robb who has indicated he would sign them. Last year, identical legislation was vetoed by former Gov. John N. Dalton.
On the Senate floor today, legislators thrashed over the abortion issue, with appeals to conscience and morality made by both sides. At one point in the debate, Sen. Eva Scott (R-Amelia) held high a color magazine photo of a six-month-old fetus.
"Does the baby conceived by rape have any less right to live than one conceived in lust or love," asked Scott, a staunch conservative who this year also led the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment. "Let us not put the state in the abortion business," she said. "We don't take the life of the rapist or the incestuous family member. Why should we take the life of the most innocent among us?"
Proponents argued that the state should not allow a woman's poverty to exclude her from exercising her right to an abortion as prescribed by the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling. "I cannot . . . draw the inexcusable distinction between those who can and those who cannot afford an abortion," said Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria.) Mitchell, Edward M. Hollard (D-Arlington) and Richard Saslaw and Clive L. DuVal (D-Fairfax) were the only Northern Virginia senators to vote for the bills.
The state Health Department has estimated that about 20 women would be eligible each year for Medicaid-financed abortions under the two bills.
"The arguments are not financial but are founded on the principle of fairness and equity," said Sen. Frederick Boucher (D-Washington). He rejected arguments from opponents that abortions for the poor should be financed by voluntary organizations, not by the government. "How can we expect the poor, the ignorant and the uninformed to have the resources to find out where these voluntary funds are available," said Boucher.
The two bills, sponsored by Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk), were approved today on votes of 21 to 18 and 21 to 17. Last year, the bill allowing Medicaid-funded abortions in cases of gross fetal abnormality came out of the Senate only after Robb, then lieutenant governor and president of the Senate, broke a tie. Supporters picked up a vote from Sen. Evelyn Hailey (D-Norfolk) who replaced Joseph T. Fitzpatrick, an opponent who left office last year.