Another prolonged congressional battle over abortion appeared likely yesterday after the House Education and Labor Committee voted 19 to 12 to attach an antiabortion amendment to a bill that seeks to end discrimination against pregnant women in the work force.
The Senate has passed a similar bill without the antiabortion amendment, and Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.) said the measure appeared destined for a protreacted House-Senate conference, similar to one that tied up funds for the Labor and Health Education and Welfare departments for months last year on the abortion issue. The House traditionally supports antiabortion language; the Senate traditionally opposes it.
Several committee Democreats complained yesterday that attaching antiabortion riders to bills was "causing a serious disruption of the legislative process," as Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.) put it.
Rep. William L. clay (D-Mo.), said he is a Catholic and "opposed to abortion," but added that "this becomes an albatross on all legislation."
"This amendment is history repeating itself. It's the Holy Wars all over again. The heathens must be conquered or converted."
"Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) said attaching the amendment was "opening up full-scale civil war. We are pushing the burden on employers and labor unions who will be subjected to all kinds of boycotts and demonstrations" as to whether they will allow abortion benefits.
"Thompson said adoption of the amendment could imperil passage of the bill, which he said most pro-life groups wanted because it "induces a woman to carry the fetus to term."
But Rep. Edward P. Beard (D-R.I.), the author of the amendment, said that without it, individual employers or organizations could be forced to pay benefits for a procedure they did not believe in.
The bill seeks to reverse a Supreme Court ruling in a case called Gilbert vs. General Electric in which the court ruled that failure to include pregnancy in medical benefits did not constitute discrimination against women under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The bill defines sex discrimination under Title VII as including pregnant workers, and says pregnancy -- and, by implication, abortion -- must be covered in insurance and disability plans. It adds that pregnant women can't be fired, denied seniority during maternity leave or forced to take leave.
Beard's amendment said benefits under health insurance plans, disability or sick-leave programs do not have to be allowed for an abortion, except where the life of the woman would be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. The amendment does not preclude an employer from paying such benefits, however.
Pro-life groups were split on whether to attach the amendment to the bill. Some, like the American Citizens Concerned for Life, oppose attaching the amendment, because they think the bill itself is "anti-abortion" since it encourages pregnant women to give birth by ensuring them job security and benefits. But the amendment was partially drafted and heavily backed by the U.S. Catholic Conference, which contended the bill would force some employers to pay for abortions they in conscience opposed.
"To say to a Catholic hospital or school you have to pay for an abortion violates its rights as a minority," Rep. Paul M. Simon (D-Ill.) said.
Rep. Michael T. Bouin (D-Iowa) tried to limit the amendment to prevent payment of medical insurance or benefits for abortions, but exclude denying disability pay or sick leave. His move lost 16 to 7. A move by Rep. Cecil Heftel (D-Hawaii) to allow an employe to include abortion coverage in her benefits if she paid for it after an employer refused to cover it lost 20 to 3.