A legislative effort to restrict the ability of girls to obtain abortions in Virginia apparently ended today after the state Senate approved a bill so weak that its sponsor said he probably will not call for another vote on the issue.
That statement by Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News) apparently signaled an end to what had become an emotional issue backed by antiabortion forces to require girls 17 years old or younger to have the permission of either their parents or a state judge to obtain an abortion. Morrison's initial bill cleared the House earlier this month by a 3-to-l margin.
But by a vote of 22 to 18 today, the Senate approved a bill that would require a girl who lacks parental approval to have only a certified statement from a doctor that she had received information sufficient to make an informed decision to have an abortion.
Morrison said after the vote that "at this point it's probably a useless exercise" to pursue the issue. Unless he changes his mind and presses the House to reject the Senate version of his bill, that will kill the measure.
The passions that the issue evoked in the legislature spilled in the galleries, which were filled with supporters and opponents of the bill.
Beth York, secretary of the Virginia Society for Human Life, warned after the Senate vote that the action could prompt violence from "fringe elements" of the antiabortion movement.
"I don't know any people who bomb clinics," said York, whose group opposes violence, "but there are people who will look at this decision and say there isn't any other way to go."
Judy Goldberg, a lobbyist for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, denounced York's remarks as irresponsible and "on the verge of urging" violence. Bennet Greenberg, executive director of the Virginia Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said York's comments were "frightening" and "unconscionable."
A critical setback for the bill occurred Tuesday when the Senate Courts of Justice Committee narrowly agreed to throw out the requirement for judicial consent and to substitute a requirement that a minor receive information from a doctor who is not connected with an abortion clinic.
Compared with the wrenching testimony heard by the House and Senate committees, the debate today was restrained.
Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) argued against the adoption of the committee's changes, saying they would make abortionists "the people who will be rendering consent . . . . We're not talking about the good ole family doctor."
"Any physician put in this position will be partisan," agreed Sen. James P. Jones, (D-Bristol). "We pay judges to make these kinds of decisions."
Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) countered by portraying a young girl entering the "huge marble structure" of the Fairfax County Courthouse and being forced to reveal her purpose to receptionists and armed deputy sheriffs "on each floor."
In the most emotional moment of the debate, he told his colleagues that those who favored judicial consent requirement were falsely posturing as champions of the interests of youngsters when their real intent was simply to reduce abortions.
"They're not looking out for youngsters," he said. "They're looking out for their philosophies and ideology. It's simply a charade to limit what they consider to be an extremely objectionable procedure."
"There are nine women in the House of Delegates and eight of them voted against this bill," Saslaw argued in the all-male Senate. "It's always the men" who oppose rights for abortions.
Sen. Thomas J. Michie Jr. (D-Charlottesville), presented statistics that he said proved that a law requiring parental and judicial consent to abortions in Massachusetts had only driven pregnant girls to neighboring states for the procedure.
After a close vote on whether to accept the committee's changes, senators voted to approve the bill, 29 to 11.
Lobbying by abortion opponents and abortion rights activists continued until the debate began. In midafternoon, for example, three women from a Pentecostal church in Petersburg got a doorman to draw Sen. Richard J. Holland (D-Isle of Wight) out of the Senate to reassure them of his antiabortion stand.
To a substantial degree, the antiabortion side has funneled its efforts through the channels of religious institutions, putting out the message from church pulpits and religious radio stations. Margaret McKenzie, who sought out Holland this afternoon, for example, said she urgeed members of her church Sunday "from the pulpit . . . to support the bill."
The Rev. Donnie Cantwell, chairman of the Virginia Moral Majority and acting moderator of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, said, "Our motto has been pray and call."
Abortion rights activists were far less well organized, though they, too, tried to use "phone trees" and issued "alerts" such as a January mailing from a Northern Virginia Planned Parenthood affiliate that urged, "Contact your legislator now."