The Virginia House of Delegates voted yesterday to allow the state to pay for abortions for indigent women who have the consent of a physician.
If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the House bill passed yesterday would make Virginia one of only 16 states plus the District of Columbia where poor women can obtain an abortion paid for with state money, according to a recent survey.
Gov. John N. Dalton cut off state funds for abortions last month following a recommendation by the state Board of Health. The House bill, if it survives the heavy attacks expected to be mounted by opponents, would reverse Dalton's order.
The bill passed by a 52-to-44 vote after a last minute effort by opponents to convince the House that abortion is an immoral procedure that should not be paid for with taxpayer's money. Supporters of the bill countered with pleas for fair treatmet for poor people and predictions that cutting off the funds would force women to "hideous alternatives."
Del. Raymond R. Robrecht (R-Roanoke County) said, "The question is: are we going to use state funds to subsidize abortion?"
Co-sponsor ofa the bill, Frank Slayton (D-Halifax) said, "Every day this state funds services that certain elements of society don't approve of."
The bill passed yesterday would require a Medicaid recipient seeking an abortion to obtain the approval of a "licensed physician," if she finds that "continuation of the pregnancy is likely to impair the well-being of the patients, including her physical, emotional or mental health.?
In making a decision, the doctor is to consider "factors relevant" such as "the age and family life of the patient, the circumstances surrounding the impregnation and the likelihood of fetal abnormality."
About 4,000 abortions were performed in Virginia in the year ending last June 30 at a cost of about $450,000. Supporters of the bill point out that this figure is .2 percent of the total Medicaid bill of $250 million. It is estimated that abortions would cost the state about $486,000 next year. Medical costs, including delivery costs, if those pregnancies were not aborted, would be about $1.5 million, according to health officials.
But cost factors were not paramount in making the decision, according to arguments made by both supporters and opponents made by both supporters and oppenents of the bill.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a legal medical procedure. After a protracted battle, Congress cut off federal funds oor abortions under the mostly federally funded Medicaid program, and in 1977 the Supreme Court ruled that are not required to pay for abortions. Proabortion forces had argued that the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws required that states the provide Medicaid funds for childbirth provide funds for abortion.
According to a survey made Feb. 1 by the National Abortion Rights Action League. 12 states plus the District of Columbia are continuing reimbursements for any Medicaid abortions.
The states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michiagan, North Carolina Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania reimburse only for abortions considered medically necessary, with physicians.
The abortion issue had become increasingly volatile since the Supreme Court decision in 1977 as organized "profile," or antiabortion> and "prochoice," or proabortion, lobbies have developed.
Part of the antiabortion Strategy recently has been to get 34 states to call for a constitutional convention to add a "human life" amendment to the U.S. constitutional that would make abortion illegal. Thirty-four states must ask for a convention before one could be called. At least nine have already passed a convention call, according to abortion supporters.
Supporters of this movement say that even if they do not get 34 states, they hope to get enough states to pass convention calls to create substantial political pressure on Congress to enact a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Two resolutions, one calling for a convention and the other asking Congress to enact the amendment, were killed in a Virginia house committee Thursday.
Opponents of the convention call movement are worried that once the convention is session anything in the U.S. Constitution could be changed. The only precedent is the original convention of 1787, they say.