Incensed District officials vowed yesterday to fight a House-passed amendment that would prevent the city from using its own funds to finance abortions for poor women, and they won one crucial round in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Mayor Marion Barry said he was "appalled" by the House antiabortion action Tuesday, approved in a 221-to-199 vote as an amendment to the District's fiscal 1986 appropriations bill.
"This is a severely anti-home rule measure," Barry said in a statement. "I intend to fight this rider, which was added to our budget without any warning or discussion with us."
Several key House and Senate members also expressed surprise and anger at the last-minute amendment tacked onto the D.C. bill and predicted it would not get through Congress.
Antiabortion activists, meanwhile, said they will work to get the Senate to go along with strong antiabortion restrictions in the District along the lines of the House amendment.
But the Senate Appropriations Committee, in approving its version of the bill yesterday, after only brief discussion replaced the House antiabortion amendment with less restrictive language that has been included in the city's budget legislation in past years. This language prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions, except when the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.
The House amendment is a flat prohibition of the use of any public funds in the bill, federal or local, for any abortions.
While federal law prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions in most cases, the District and 14 states now use their own funds to finance abortions for poor women through Medicaid. City funds also are used for abortions for indigent women at D.C. General Hospital.
If the Senate Appropriations Committee language is approved by the full Senate, the issue would be resolved in a conference committee. The chairmen of the District appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate, who would do the main negotiating in conference, oppose the antiabortion language in the House bill.
"Congress has never tried to tell states not to use their own funds for abortion," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Senate subcommittee chairman after yesterday's committee meeting. "It defies the principle of federalism."
Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), the House subcommittee chairman who had strongly opposed the amendment as an intrusion on home rule, yesterday called the Tuesday vote "a low point for the House."
"It's much easier to do this within the D.C. bill," because it does not directly affect other members' constituents, Dixon said. "Those who voted for it did so to demonstrate to their constituents that they are antiabortion."
House members who strongly oppose abortion have succeeded several times in getting antiabortion amendments attached to bills this year. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), the author of the House amendment, dismissed the home rule argument as "baloney."
"Other countries use home rule to defend apartheid, discrimination against Soviet Jews or forced abortion in the People's Republic of China," he said.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said he could not predict how a vote in the Senate would go but said his group will be involved in pushing a strong antiabortion amendment to the D.C. bill.
On another controversial issue, the Appropriations Committee removed a blanket requirement added by the House that all District contracts must be competitively bid and replaced it with mild language stating that the city must follow its own procurement laws. As a result, that language will be negotiated in conference in the fall