The Virginia General Assembly headed into the final hours of its 1985 legislative session today still sharply polarized over whether to restrict abortions for girls 17 and younger.
At the same time, House and Senate Democrats were still struggling with questions concerning two controversial judicial appointments: whether to appoint the wife of a Democratic legislator to a $55,000-a-year judgeship and who to appoint to the state's powerful regulatory agency that oversees state corporations and utility rates.
In a last attempt to save a House bill to require parental or judicial consent for abortions by minors, the bill's sponsor, Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News), called today for a conference between the House and Senate. The Senate had rejected the requirement for judicial approval and substituted language that would require only that the minor receive enough information from a second doctor to make a mature, informed decision.
Morrison said he acted because he saw some possibility of reaching a compromise, though many of his colleagues predicted the search for a middle ground would fail.
The abortion issue has proved to be the most controversial and divisive of the session. Although the House approved Morrison's measure to require parental or judicial consent by a 3-to-1 ratio, the Senate, protesting the intrusion of judges into the realm of personal decisions, threw out the requirement for judicial approval.
The Senate voted today 23 to 17 to insist on its version of the bill after angrily dressing down Morrison for what some senators described as "high-handed" tactics.
"The delegate from Newport News is threatening us, he's been tossing tomatoes at us from the other end of the building, he's been calling us spineless wimps, he's been doing everything he can" to whip up emotions over the issue, charged Sen. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington).
"We are not a body over here that is to be subjected to intimidation or . . . threats," said Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr. (D-Botetourt), who led the fight in the Senate to weaken the bill.
Despite the broadsides against Morrison, legislators said later that the tactics had no real effect on the outcome of today's vote.
Morrison had said that he probably would let the bill die if the Senate insisted on its amendments today. But today he said he called for a conference because after a conversation with Emick, he saw some possibility of reaching a compromise.
The move distressed abortion-rights activists, encouraged antiabortionists, and bewildered both sides.
"They antiabortionists have pushed every step of the way, and they're still pushing," said Bennet Greenberg, executive director of the Virginia Planned Parenthood Affiliates. "I don't know what's going to happen. I've never seen a conference committee on a issue where people are this polarized, especially in the waning days of the session."
Jack Knapp, executive director of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists, which opposes abortion, said, "It's really hard to know how to react . . . . I want to see them go as far as we can go with it."
Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews (D-Hampton) said he did not expect the conference to prolong the session, due to end at midnight Saturday. "We've got a few hours to work on it," said Del. Clinton Miller (R-Shenandoah), appointed as one of the House conferees. "There's always a possibility when reasonable men reason."
Late today, the Democratic leaders of the legislature also were nearing a way out of a controversy over the pending election of the wife of one of the Democratic legislators to a $55,000 Richmond judgeship.
The Democrats were considering a plan to put off the election of four judges, including Phoebe Hall, wife of Del. Franklin P. Hall (D-Richmond), until an April 3 special session. Several legislators said that would give them time to reconsider the nomination, which has drawn fire from local bar associations and influential legislators.
The Democratic leadership also appeared unable to resolve its split between the House and Senate over whether to appoint former Alexandria delegate James M. (Big Jim) Thomson, now the state's insurance commissioner, or former delegate Edward Lane of Richmond to the powerful State Corporation Commission.
Several legislators said Richmond Circuit Court Judge Marvin Cole has emerged as a possible compromise candidate for the post.