In the first sign of hope for a settlement, House conferees agreed yesterday to study a Senate compromise allowing substantially more federally funded abortions than the rigid House anti-abortion provision.
The compromise was submitted by Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.) after Rep. Daniel J. Flood (D-Pa.), an arch-foe of abortion, said an earlier abortion provision originally passed by the senate allows women to "get an abortion for an ingrown toe nail."
Under the Magnuson proposal, the federal government would be permitted to fund abortions for low-income women under the Medicaid program if the life of the woman were endangered, in cases of rape or incest, or if the pregnancy's continuation would cause the women of the fetus to suffer "serious permanent health damage."
"There are about 2,000 genetic disease," said Magnusion, and it would be unconscionable if abortion under the Medicaid program were denied to a low-income woman where it was clear the fetus were likely to be born deformed or with serious disabilities.
Whether the House conferees will accept Magnusion's proposal without further change is unclear, but they at least agreed to take a look at it. Previously there had been complete deadlock.
The House, in passing its final version of the $60.1 billion money bill for the Labor and Health, Education and Welfare departments, had voted to cut off all funds for abortions expect where continued pregnancy endangers the woman's life. - a continuation of a provision first voted last year. The Medicaid program had previously been paying for about 250,000 to 275,000 abortions annually for low-income women.
The Senate, in its own initial version of the bill, agreed to stop Medicaid payments for abortions where they were purely elective, but weakened the House provision by granting permission for abortion wherever a doctor considered it "medically necessary" for any physical or psychological reason. Flood of others said "medically necessary" is so broad a doctor has complete discretion.
The Magnuson provision was offered as a compromise which would still ban purely elective abortion under Medicaid, but permit it for wome pregnant because of rape or incest, and in situations where the pregnancy would cause the woman illness of a permanent nature short of death, or would result in a diseaded or deformed baby. The tight House ban doesn't exempt anything from the ban but situations where the life of the woman is directly endangered.
Magnuson sought to get around House objections that "medically necessary" was too vague and permissived, by substituting the tighter concept of permanent serious damage to the woman or fetus.
Flood seemed disinclined to accept the compromise but several of the other House conferees, including David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.) and Bob Michel (R-Ill.), said they felt it worth studying.