High school students, sporting the pink buttons of antiabortion forces on their school jackets and sweaters, lined the back of a House committee room today awaiting a decision on a bill that would require parental or judicial consent for abortions on minors.
Children from a local Christian school filled one aisle. One 12-year-old called "murder, murder" as an abortion-rights speaker tried to pass.
From their elevated platform at the front of the packed committee room, legislators considering the bill could clearly see that the pink buttons of supporters outnumbered the yellow buttons of opponents.
But despite their numbers, the bill's proponents did not prevail.
The committee opted to study the bill -- a move that the bill's sponsor initially characterized as tantamount to defeat.
But some supporters of the bill are hoping for another chance later this week. Del. C. Hardaway Marks (D-Hopewell), the committee's chairman, said he would decide by Thursday whether proponents can still demand a vote on the bill itself, as they argue, or whether they must wait until next year.
Supporters of the bill booed when Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria) called for a study and cheered loudly when Del. Clinton Miller (R-Woodstock) argued for an up-or-down vote on the bill.
The same committee narrowly defeated a similar bill last year. This year's bill enjoys a far more powerful sponsor -- Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News), a man admired by his colleagues for his grasp of the law -- and is considered to be better drafted.
Gary Leedes, a University of Richmond law professor, told the legislators before the vote that Morrison's bill avoided any of the constitutional pitfalls that have doomed some abortion bills in other states. He said the bill is closely modeled on Missouri's statute and "no problems" have arisen there.
But Robert Shepherd, another University of Richmond professor, testified that courts had struck down statutes in eight of the 19 states that have passed laws mandating parental or judicial consent because of provisions similar to some in Morrison's bill.
The bill would require those under 18 who want abortions to obtain the approval of a parent or a juvenile court judge in an expedited court procedure, unless a physician determines that a mother's life is at stake.
One supporter, Candace C. Banks told the committee she deeply regrets not seeking her parents' guidance when she became pregnant and underwent an abortion at age 17.
"I took the easy way out," she said. "I never even faced the fact I was pregnant." As a cost of avoiding what "would have been hell around my house for a few days," she said, "I ended up feeling even more guilt and loneliness."
But Kathryn B. Haynie, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Virginia Inc., told the committee the bill would bring about "the most harmful consequences," especially for victims of incest or abuse.
"We cannot force our teen-agers to trust us, to confide in us . . . . No law can do that," said Haynie.
She described one client who threatened to kill herself if her parents were told of her pregnancy and predicted an increase in illegal abortions, out-of-state abortions and suicides by pregnant girls if the bill is adopted. As for the option of seeking judicial approval, she asked legislators: "How do you feel going to court?"
The close split among committee members was evident when they considered an amendment that would have given minors desiring an abortion a third option: seeking the approval of a licensed professional counselor. The amendment failed, 10 to 10. The motion for a study was approved 12 to 8.
The votes followed two days of intense lobbying. Cohen, for example, received 11 calls within three hours this morning, including one from a nurse who claimed that ultrasound showed that fetuses screamed and tried to swim away during the abortion procedure.
Lining up the messages on his desk this morning, Cohen's secretary put down the three from opponents on the left, and all the rest on the right, saying "these are for, for, for, for . . . "