An old issue, race, and a new one, abortion, were joined at a hearing here yesterday on whether the Pennsylvania legislature should ratify the proposed constitutional amendment to give the District full voting representation in Congress.
The two issues were raised by a witness, Thomas J. Halligan, who said he opposes ratification because any members of Congress elected by District residents likely would be blacks who would bote to allow federal funds to be used for abortions.
State Rep. James P. Ritter (D-Allentown), chairman of the Pennsylavnia House's committee on state-federal relations, angrily accused Halligan of "practicing" a very subtle kind of discrimination by using code words to express opposition to the D.C. amendment.
The phrases invoked by Halligan that troubled Ritter and other committee members included reference to Philadelphia legislators and civil rights and welfare organizations, about whom Halligan is motivating them."
Halligan, a conservative activist from Scranton, urged the committee to delay consideration of the D.C. amendment, so that it would not compete wiht a constitutional convention that anti-abortion advocates hope to convene. At that convention, an amendment will be introduced that would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortions.
Ritter told Halligan "I have every intention of calling up (the D.C. amendment) for a vote when these hearings end." And he predicted that Pennsylvania will become the second state to ratify the proposal. New Jersey was the first.
Hearings were scheduled in four widely-scattered locations in the state after the Pennsylvania House recommitted the proposal to the committee last month with instructions to allow the widest possible debate on the issue.
The first of the four Monday hearings was held last week in Clarion, where all eight witnesses spoke in favor of ratification. The third and fourth hearings are planned in Johnstown and Phildelphia.
Other witnesses who testified yesterday against ratification were Timothy H. Scully, a political science professor at the Universtiy of Scranton, and Frank Gaydosh, a business consultant from Union Dale who said he had been urged to testify by the Conservative Caucus in Washington. The lone proponent was Karen Keefer, president of the Wilkes-Barre League of Women Voters.
Halligan told Ritter he is "not opposed to minority representation in Congress" but that it shouldn't come in the form of the D.C. amendment.
"The true remedy" to racial imbalance in Congress, Halligan said, is for "other states to nominate and elect" blacks to the House and Senate.
D.C. residents already are well represented on Capitol Hill, Halligan said. "The average person in Scranton is lucky to see Sen. [Richard S.] Schweiker or Sen. [H. John] Heinz once a year, but if you live in Washington, you can grab the subway and see 100 senators." Additionally, he said, the interests of District residents are protected by lobbying organizations "including every civil rights and welfare" group.
To bestow the equivalent of statehood on D.C. would encourage statehood movements in Long Island, and among Navajos and Eskimos, Halligan said. "There would be no end to it."
Rep. J. William Lincoln (D-Dunbar), who voted against ratification on the first go-round, quipped that if it would cause Philadelphia to seek statehood, "I might change my stand."