A Senate Appropriations subcommittee yesterday voted against tough House curbs on free federal abortions for low-income women.
Instead, the committee adopted by an 8-to-5 vote Sen. Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.) allowing federal funding of abortions for Medical patients in a wide variety of situations, including any case where the woman's doctor considers it "medically necessary" for whatever physical of psychological reasons.
The subcommittee language, identical to a formula adopted by the Senate a year ago but changed in conference, is far more permissive than a strong abortion ban adopted by the House June 13, and also more permissive than existing law.
The subcommittee action appeared certain to set off another bruising House-Senate fight over abortion funding, similar to last year's battle which forced 23 House votes and 21 Senate votes on the issue before an uneasy compromise was reached Dec. 7.
In offering his amendment, Brooke said the language adopted by the House two weeks ago is so restrictive that it "forces poor women into dangerous back-alley abortions" and intrudes the federal government into an "intensely personal and private decision." He said it would rob women who can't afford to have private abortions of the opportunity to have them paid for by the Medicaid program.
The Brooke language was adopted as the Subcommittee approved an appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare, totaling nearly $55 billion, or about $420 million above administration requests for those items the subcommittee considered. Action on about $20 billion in additional requests for these agencies was deferred because authorizations haven't yet been passed.
The abortion language in existing law, which expires Oct. 1, allows free medicaid abortions if the woman's life would be endangered by continued pregnancy, if the pregnancy threatened "severe and long-lasting physical health damage" to the woman, or in cases of rape and incest.
The House June 13 approved much more restrictive language for next year, allowing Medicaid abortions only where the life of the woman was endangered. President Carter backs this version.
The Brooke amendment adopted yesterday is far less restrictive. it permits federal funding of abortions under Medicaid not only where the woman's life is endangered or where the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest but also whenever the physician considers it "medically necessary."
Brooke said this would take care of all sorts of situations barred by the existing law and House language. These would include cases where the fetus was likely to be born diseased, deformed or damaged (as, for example, when the mother had German measles while pregnant), where the mother would be likely to suffer severe psychological (not just physical) damage, or where physical damage to the mother would be serious but not necessarily both severe and long-lasting.
An anti-abortion leader, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), has called the Brooke language a giant loophole that would permit abortion for virtually any reason the doctor chose.
At one time the Medicaid program financed over 250,000 abortions yearly, but last year's restrictions are expected to cut this figure back sharply.
In acting on the bill, the subcommittee stripped out a House provision directing the secretaries of Labor and HEW to reduce controllable spending by 2 percent, or about $340-$400 million. It also deferred action on $3.13 billion sought by HEW to fund college aid for low- and middle-income students (this is HEW's alternative to a tuition tax credit). It also left up to the full Appropriations Committee a decision on whether to keep in ati-busing and antiquota provisions. A directive to HEW to cut $1 billion in waste if possible was left in.
In the 8-to-5 vote to adopt the Brooke abortion language in place of the House wording, Sens. Warren Magnuson (D-Wash.), Brooke, Charles McC Mathias Jr. (R-Md.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Quentin Burdick (D-N.D.), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Clifford P. Case (R-N.J.), backed the language. Opposed were Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.), Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.), Milton R. Young (R-N.D.), Richard S. Sweiker (R-Pa.) and William Proxmire (D-Wis).