A Virginia House committee, after a searing debate filled with rare personal attacks, today approved a controversial bill to require minors to obtain permission from their parents or a state judge before having an abortion.
At one point in the tense, 90-minute meeting of the House Courts of Justice Committee, Del. Clinton Miller (R-Shenandoah), who led the fight for the bill, suddenly interrupted his remarks to lash out at a woman in the overflow audience.
"You may be bored by this," shouted Miller, "this is serious . . . "
The woman, wearing a button supporting abortion, shot back, "It's not boring me and I resent your attack." She later said she had only raised her eyebrows at some of Miller's remarks. "To attack someone in the audience shows what kind of man he is," said the woman, who declined to give her name.
That exchange was one of several outbursts during the committee session, which was also marked by parliamentary maneuvers that at first appeared to kill the bill but then revived it.
"Let's stop playing games," scowled Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News), the bill's sponsor. "Why is everyone so afraid of the bill ?" he said during one exchange.
At the end, House Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk) pointedly said he resented Miller's attacks during one vote, when Miller had called for support, declaring that delegates would support him "if you have any pride."
Such personal comments are rare and prohibited by the rules of the tradition-bound House where members often go to great lengths to keep personal clashes out of sight.
The measure will now go to the House floor.
Some opponents believe it will pass there, but its chances in the Senate are less certain.
Opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, contend the bill infringes on abortion rights, would be difficult to enforce and falsely assumes that the coercive action would help bring families together.
They charge the bill's provisions are cumbersome and will drive minors to illegal abortions.
Supporters contend parental consent must be given for even minor operations by doctors and that young females should not be exposed to dangerous abortion procedures without their parents' knowledge or a court's permission.
One crucial vote came when Del. Mary Sue Terry (D-Patrick), an unannounced candidate for state attorney general, cast her vote for the bill.
One antiabortion group held a press conference before the vote to single out Terry and demand she support the bill.
Opponents, who had staged an aggressive effort to keep the bill from coming up for a vote, had hoped to the last that Terry would vote against it.
Terry said in an interview that she considers herself "pro-choice" on abortion for adults but that "the state has a legitimate interest in protecting minors." She earlier had voted for a losing proposal to study the issue for a year.
"I know of no more wrenching issue to me personally," said Del. Clifton A. (Chip) Woodrum (D-Roanoke), as several of the members spoke of their personal anguish over the issue.
"I envy people on both extremes," said Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk), explaining that ardent supporters and opponents do not have to worry about moral dilemmas the committee faced. Glasscock said he opposed the bill because it was falsely portrayed as a parental rights bill.
"The measure has as its primary purpose the cutting off of abortions," Glasscock said.