The Virginia Board of Health has voted to discontinue paying for the abortions of indigent women unless the life of the woman is endangered by pregnancy.
The cutoff of abortion payments was delayed until after Nov. 30 to give the board time to hold a required public hearing on the issue and to make a final decision after that, a state health department official said today.
The nine-member board voted 5 to 1 with three abstentions to change the rules of the Virginia Medicaid program so that nontherapeutic abortions for poor women no longer would be paid for by the state. Federal funds for abortions were cut off last month when a federal judge lifted a year-old injunction against enforcement of an aid ban enacted by Congress.
Virginia Attorney General Anthony F. Triy ruled last week that despite the federal policy Virginia could continue to provide abortions under the Medicaid program, using only state funds.
In actions that apparently turned on the personal philosophies of the members of the state board of health last week rejected a motion to continue nontherapeutic abortions, by a 5-to-4 margin.
Then, on a motion to end the program, three members abstained and only the lone female member of the board, Fostine G. Riddick of hampton voted against the proposal.
The board vote rejected a unanimous recommendation by its 15-members Medicare-Medicaid advisory committee that nontherapeutic abortion aid be continued.
Dr. Erwin Brown, deputy commissioner of health, said that abortion aid is a relatively small part of the Virginia Medicaid program. The cost of about 4,000 abortions for Medical patients in the fiscal year was about $450,000. This is less than 02. per cent of the entire state Medicaid bill of $250 million, he said.
Ending abortion aid is not expected to reduce Medicaid costs significantly, Brown said, because the program will pay the costs of childbirth of women who might otherwise have terminated their pregnancies. Some proponents of abortion aid have argued that total Medicaid costs will rise if aid for nontherapeutic abortions is ended.
The federal government pays 90 per cent of the cost of Medicaid.
Maryland and the District of Columbia have decided to continue abortion aid for the poor at least temporarily. In Washington, the city government has promised to pay full abortion costs for Medicaid patients at least through the end of this month, when the current budget year ends. In Maryland, officials have decided to continue the current program of abortion aid until the General Assembly has an opportunity to establish a state policy when it meets next January.
No date has been set for the public hearing on abortion payments for indigent women in Virginia. The next scheduled meeting of the State Board of Health is Nov. 30.
The use of government funds to pay for abortions is a highly controversial issue. Many opponents believe that abortion is immortal - the taking of human life. Supporters of liberalized abortion laws argue that the restrictions on the use of public funds for abortions discriminate against undergo self-induced or otherwise unsafe abortions or to have unwanted children.
An estimated 1 million abortions were performed in this country last year, including about 250,000 to 300,000 that were paid for with Medicaid funds.