The identifications of Virginia state Sens. Edward M. Holland (D-Arlington) and Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) were inadvertently switched in a picture caption in yesterday's Post.
The Virginia Senate yesterday defeated a bill that would have permitted the state to pay for abortions for indigent women, but the ultimate fate of the bill was in doubt when the Senate recessed for dinner because a confusing parliamentary dispute.
After the bill's defeat, 20 to 18, efforts to reconsider it were stymied because its defeat was "communicated to the House" before the request could be acted on. Supporters said the "communication" was precipitantly order by Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Braun (D-Fairfax), an abortion opponent. Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, who is serving his first term, was dispatched to work out a solution to the dispute with House Speaker John Warren Cooke. If the bill is reconsidered, and the vote comes out to be a 19-to-19 tie, Robb would have to cast the deciding vote.
If the bill is not retrieved from the House for reconsideration and its status remains unchanged, an idigent woman will continue to be able to get an abortion paid for with public funds only if her life is in danger. Earlier this session the House passed on a 52-to-44 vote the same controversial bill, which would have the effect of overturning a ruling by Gov. John N. Dalton cutting off public funds for abortion.
If the action taken yesterday afternoon in Virginia stands, it would leave only 13 of the 50 states still allowing the use of public funds to pay for abortions. The District of Columbia does allow government-financed abortions, but a bill pending before the Maryland Senate would prohibit the use of state funds for the operations.
Federal funds were cut off, except for cases in which the life of the mother is endangered, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not be required under the Constitution to finance abortions for the poor.
The measure that was defeated yesterday after an arduous and emotion-laden path thorugh a House committee, the full House and a Senate committee would have permitted indigent women to get abortions if a physician certified that their mental, physical or emotional health was threatened. It also would have required the physician to consider the circumstances surrounding a woman's pregnancy, such as rape or incest. These are now not considered valid conditions under which state funds could be used.
"What this bill does is permit the economically disabled pregnant female to avoid herself of the same course as the law permits a female who is not economically disabled to follow," said supporter Sen. J. Harry Michael (D-Charlottesville). He noted that under the orginal 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion the court ruled that an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy was a decision to be made solely by a woman and her phsyician.
Senate Majority Leader Brault, who said he was "a voice crying in the wilderness' when he spoke for nearly one hour against the liberalizing of the state's abortion laws in 1970, repeattd his claim that allowing the abortion funding would be to "put the commonwealth in the business of murder for hire."
Brault became a pivotal figure in the parliamentary dispute that erupted later in the day, when he revealed that he had instructed the Senate clerk to dispatch legislation completed by the Senate to the House as soon as possible. Normally, the required "communication to the House" is done after the Senate adjourns. However, Brault said, he commonly asks for the quick action in these last few days of the session when so much legislation must be taken care of.
Several senators who voted for the abortion bill, including Rules COmmittee Chairman Willard Moody (D-Porthsmouth), said they had not learned of the shift in procedure until they told Senate clerk Jay Shropshire they wanted to ask for reconsideration of the bill.
The ensuing argument, which continued in a Rules Committee meeting for which the Senate was recessed, centered on the question of whether Moody had asked for the reconsideration before the messenger actually reached the House, and whether the bill could be retrieved under the rules that govern the intricate procedure under which both bodies conduct their business.
With the senators and Shropshire taking on roles resembling those of prosecutor, defense attorney, defendant, witness, and judge, the issue was debated at length late yesterday afternoon. Although each speaker claimed to have great "love" for the senate or official he then proceeded to attack, the debate was particularly tense.
One reason for the tension is that any new vote on the issue may result in a tie. This is because only a member who voted on the prevailing side, that s to defeat the bill may request reconsideration. If one senator has changed his mind, as Moody and the others claimed, then the final vote could be a tie and Robb would be forced to cast the deciding vote.