The Virginia State Board of Health voted yesterday for the second time to discontinue paying for the abortions of indigent women unless the life of the woman is endangered by pregnancy. The state assumed the abortion payments when federal funding was cut off last August.
Any cutoff in state payments for abortions, however, was delayed pending a final decision on the controversial issue by Gov. Mills E. Godwin. An aide said the governor has not made up his mind on whether to continue the state funding, which amounts to more than $500,000 a year. More than 4,000 Virginia women had state-paid abortions in the year ending last June 30.
The prospective Virginia cutoff of payments for nontherapeutic abortions for Medicaid patients comes at a time of heightened debate in both Congress and the nation over government funding of abortions for indigent women and the morality of abortions in general.
The board's action on the funding cutoff, made on a 4 to 1 vote, came after a series of public hearings throughout the state at which abortion opponents and proponents made sometimes impassioned pleas for the board to act one way or the other.
Virginia is one of 13 states plus the District of Columbia which still pay for abortions for poor women despite the near total ban on federal funding through Medicaid.
Congress currently is deadlocked on whether federal funds should be used to pay for any electing abortions.
An Anne Arundel County, Md., circuit court judge is scheduled to hear arguments today by the Maryland State Attorney General's Office that he lift a temporary injunction prohibiting Maryland form paying for abortions for Medicaid patients. The injunction was issued Monday by District Judge Bruce Williams in response to a complaint filed by three Maryland residents.
Albert P. Russo, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, said yesterday he was confident that the city would continue to provide funds for elective abortions for poor woemn despite the city's financial uncertainty caused by Congress' failure to approve the D.C. budget for the current fiscal year.
"There's a switch in the feeling of people throughout the country," Dr. Kenneth M. Haggerty, chairman of the Virginia health board, said after the vote yesterday."This indiscriminate abortion is eating at the heart of the country. I just think people are taking a look back and wondering what we are doing."
Although Freeman Hayes, director of the state Medicaid Program, estimated that Virginia would be jepardized and accused anti-abortionists of tryis are not performed in the state, he said that the state would have to pay about $3 million in maternity benefits due to the consequent increase in births.
Dr. William Grossman, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Medicine and Medicaid, told the board that his committee had been "surprised, disappointed, and dismayed" at the board's test vote in September banning public funds for abortions.
Grossman's committee has twice voted unanimously to recommend that the state continue to fund abortions.Grossman said that the issue is not whether abortions is legal but whether those who cannot pay for an abortion should be discriminated against.
"We can no longer afford to perpetuate an immoral double standard that recognizes the rights of the rich and frustrates these rights for the poor," Grossman said.
Grossman said that by denying the Medicaid funding of abortions the health of poor women would be jeperdized and accused anti-abortionists of trying to impose their own convictions and religious beliefs on others.
The population of the city as a whole has declined steadily since World War II. Demographers say this is typical of many large eastern cities and attribute it to suburban residential development and the decline of business and industrial activity in urban centers.
Washington's population in mid-1976 was estimated at 707,900 by the municipal office, down form 756.510 in 1970.
The U.S. Census Bureau, which makes its own estimates between the formal headcounts at the beginning of each decade, estimated Washington's 1976 population at 702,000.
D.C. municipal planning office statisticians say they use a combination of birth, death, school enrollment and migration data to make their estimates.
A private demographic consultant with extensive experience in Washington area population studies said the municipal planning office methodolegy was spend and developed by a "competent and professional staff.
Del. Ira M. Lechner (D-Arlington), who was defeated last June in his attempt to win the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, estimated that a ban on publicly funded abortions would cost the state a "rock bottom minimum" of almost $2 billion in welfare payments in the next 18 years, not taking inflation into account.
Lechner said he based his figures on the cost to the state of supporting welfare mothers and the additional 4,000 children who would be born every year.
"If you decide to cut off Medicaid funding for abortion, please be prepared to defend loudly, higher and higher welfare costs year after year," Lechner, told the board at its meeting in Alexandria yesterday.
Board chairman Haggerty took exception to Lechner's argument and said he was "offended by the statement that we forget morality and vote dollars."
During the six public hearings held across the state, Hayes said that anti-abortionists generally argued that abortion under any circumstances is immoral, with a smaller group opposed to using tax dollars to pay for the abortions.
Pro-abortionists argued that unwanted children tend to be abused and that a cut-off in state funds for abortions would lead to a higher rate of illegitimate births and teen-aged parents. Those who support abortion also said that a fund cut-off would force many women to seek dangerous,illegal abortions wherever they could.