House-Senate conferees reached a stalemate yesterday on whether to ban federal funding of abortions for low-income women.
"There's a head-on collision here," said Rep. Dan Flood (D-Pa.) as conferees completed action on the $60.1 billion appropriation for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare, but without any agreement on abortion.
Flood said House conferees will take back to the House floor for endorsement a proposal that all federal payments for abortions be cut off except where necessary to save the life of the mother - the tough anti-abortion language favored by President Carter and the overwhelming majority of House conferees.
Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) said the Senate conferees will counter by taking back to the Senate floor the much more permissive Senate language, which allows federally funded abortions not only to save the mother, but if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest or a doctor found abortion to be "medically necessary."
Flood and other House conferees said the Senate language is so broad it could permit abortion under the Medicaid program for low-income women in any case where a doctor, in his sole judgment, determines abortion is desirable for any medical or psychological reason. At present, the federal government pays for 250,000 abortions a year.
The idea behind taking the two provisions back for separate votes is to see if either side weakens on its provision in the floor vote. Assuming each side upholds its provision, there will be a new conference to see if a compromise can be worked out.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., meanwhile, an aide to U.S. District Court Judge John F. Dooling Jr. said the judge is awaiting documents sent by the Supreme Court this week to decide how to proceed on a key abortion case before him involving federal funding.
Last year Congress approved a ban on federal funding of abortion except to save the life of the mother, but the judge held it in abeyance pending various legal challenges. The Supreme Court documents would allow him to let the ban go into effect. The ban in last year's bill was for only one fiscal year.