The debate over a bill to require parental or judicial consent on abortions for girls 17 and younger raged on in a joint hearing before two State Senate committees today, with both sides presenting tales of lives ruined by abortions and by unwanted pregnancies.
Senators opposed to the bill are maneuvering to have it referred from the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where it is currently assigned, to the Committee on Education and Health, believed to be unfriendly to the measure.
The bill's sponsor, Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr., pleaded against such a move during the emotional hour-long hearing before the committees. "What I can not respect," said the Newport News Democrat, "is the spineless wimps who will not vote on this measure at all."
Hundreds of supporters and opponents stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the packed committee room to hear the latest round of testimony on the bill, which passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 78 to 21 last week and has fast become the most controversial measure in the 1985 legislative session.
Anne Kincaid, one of the bill's supporters, read a letter from a Maryland woman who described years of suicidal tendencies and dependency on drugs and alcohol after her four abortions as a young woman -- experiences she said might have been avoided if she had sought the support of her parents.
"Because I had not confided in my mother about the abortions," the woman wrote, "I could not confide in her about the severe emotional traumas I was experiencing."
"Abortion without parental knowledge ruins lifelong communications with your parents," the woman's letter said.
Everett L. Worthington, a research psychologist, testified that that the bill would help young girls who deprive themselves of much-needed support from their parents because they wrongly fear any angry reaction. "The research shows up to four-fifths of parents will be supportive," Worthington argued. "Parental support, not peer support, is crucial to dealing with child bearing or abortions."
Opponents of the bill countered with descriptions of a West Virginia girl who had been refused permission for the procedure by a judge and a girl who had bled to death after attempting a self-abortion with a coat hanger.
Floretta Sears-Thomas, a retired nurse, told of two young girls who became pregnant by their father and whose mother "did not take up for them." They finally sought help, she said, from nurses and outside counselors.
"This bill would require them to be sent to courts like criminals to plead their cases before strangers," she argued.
Michael Valentine, a Fairfax County District Court judge, testified that the bill would force him to make decisions about young girls' lives on the basis of nothing other than his personal convictions, which he said have no place in the courtroom. "I don't know when you want me to say no, and when you want me to say yes," he said. "If you pass this bill, please tell us how" to decide.
James M. Moss, an Alexandria physician, told the two rows of male legislators on the committees that the bill would punish girls who couldn't confide in their parents. They especially "should not be punished by men, who cannot get pregnant," he said.
Sen. William F. Parkerson, Jr. (D-Richmond), who is chairman the courts committee, called the hearing to an end without setting a date for a vote on the measure.