The House last night rejected another attempt at compromise with the Senate on the delicate issue of federal funding for abortions, again delaying a $61.1 billion approciation bill.
Authors of the latest attempt blamed "right to life" lobbyists for again producing the votes to block a compromise.
As a result of last night's 205 to 183 vote, funding for the Department of Labor and of Health, Education and Welfare will end at midnight tonight. Both houses could pass a continuing resolution that would allow those departments to pay salaries and continue their programs. But Sen. Edward W. Brooke (R-mass.) said yesterday he would do everything he could to prevent passage of any continuing resolution that did not resolve the abortion question.
The compromise that failed yesterday would have permitted federal funding of abortions for women who were the victims of rape or incest "when such rape or incest has been reported to a law enforcement agency or public health service or its equivalent."
The Senate approved this language, 44 to 21, at 5 p.m. yesterday and forwarded it to the House. Two hours and 10 minutes later the House had rejected it.
Since the abortion debate began last year, the House has repeatedly voted for the so-called Hyde amendment, named for Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), which preclude any federal money for abortions through the Medicaid program "except where the life of the mother would be endangered" if the pregnancy was carried to term.
At the beginning of this month, the House rejected an attemptedt to cover victims of rape and incest, apparently on the grounds it was too vague. Yesterday a second-term House Democrat from Washington, Don Bonker, sought to make the definitions more explicit, suggesting a compromise that would require cases of rape and incest to be reported to an official agency before an abortion could be performed.
The new language was speedily and unexpectedly brought to a vote in both houses - but, proponents of the compromise said, not speedily enough to oumaneuver the ingenious and determined anti-abortion lobby.
At mid-afternoon yesterday, Bonker said he thought he had a good chance of winning over enough liberal congressmen who - like himself - had previously supported the Hyde amendment.But he said the vote would have to be take quickly because oppponents of abortion would mobilize opposition as soon as they learned of the new compromise language.
Several hours later, as House debate on the compromise began, Bonker acknowledged that he had failed. He indicated that the anti-abortionists had again prevailed.
Sponsors of the new compromise were unable to predict yesterday exactly what its practical effects might have been had both houses adopted it. Sen. Richard S. Schwelker (R-Pa.), an outspoken opponent of abortion, predicted that the new language woud have allowed perhaps 100,000 Medicaid abortions a year.
A pregnant teenager below the age of consent (which varies from state to state) could claim to be the victim of statutory rape, and therefore eligible for Medicaid abortion, Schwelker said.
Schweiker also said that the reporting requirements for a rape or a case of incest - which Brooke acknowledged were "weak" - would invite fradulent claims of rape or incest by preganant women seeking medicaid abortions. Brooke replied that "there is no evidence to support such a contention."
For the first time yesterday, House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) spoke out on behalf of compromise on the abortion issue, urging the House to approve the new language, not because it was ideal but because it was "the best that we can do." But this support from the leadership had no apparent effect on the outcome of the vote, which was nearly identical to the House's rejection of the last proposed compromise in early November.