The House of Representatives voted yesterday to include a strict ban on publicly financed abortions as it passed the District of Columbia budget for the 1980 fiscal year.
The key vote on the emotionally charged abortion issue was 217 to 200. after adopting the prohibition, the House passed the city's operating budget of nearly $1.4 billion and approved a federal payment of $191.5 million for the 12 - month period starting Oct. 1.
Although the abortion issue has sparked recurring controversies on Capitol Hill in recent years, yesterday's action represented the first time the legislators have directly tied the issue to local rather than national legislation. By law, Congress passes the D.C budget, just as it does the budgets of federal agencies.
Yesterday's action could entangle the city budget in a long, drawn-out battle with the Senate, which has opposed bans on federally funded abortions in the past.
Such a dispute would not affect city programs until the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. If it extends beyond that, Congress would be expected to pass a resolution continuing city spending at this fiscal year's levels.
A ban on nationwide funding of Medicaid abortions - except when a mother's life would be endangered by her continued pregnancy - was included by the House in the $73.6 billion appropriation bill for the U.S. departments of Labor and Health, Education and Welfare that it passed on June 27 and sent to the Senate, where it is still pending.
The House's new District of Columbia abortion prohibition, which would bar the use of either federal or D.C funds, was proposed by Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Calif). the only debate on the city budget yesterday was on two amendments he propoded to carry out the ban.
Dornan told the House that there were 10,000 live births and 13,000 abortions - 5,250 of them financed by the government - in the District of Columbia last year. No American city ... no city in western civilization" ever has reached such a high proportion of abortions, he said.
Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the D.C bbudget, and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) opposed Dornan's amendments. Fauntroy insisted that the District's elected officials should set public policy on abortions.
Dornan's first amendment, which set the stage procedurally for the flat ban on publicly financed abortions, was approved by a vote of 309 to 112. The decisive vote of 217 to 200 was on a motion by Wilson to limit the ban on abortions to those financed by federal but not by D.C. funds.
After that vote, Dornan's proposal was adopted by a voice vote, and the budget itself approved on a roll-call vote of 272 to 147.
The House vote was termed "intolerable interference" into local affairs by Debbie Menke, head of the Abortion Rights of Washington committee. She raised the prospect that the House amendment would bar abortions for women who worked for the city, including teachers, whose group health insurance policies are paid by the District.
Cheryl McKibbin, speaking for the National Abortion Rights Action League, accused Dornan of fanaticism, and said that "once again the District is being held hostage to the vagaries of special-interest groups around the country."
As the House debated, a group of women carrying antiabortion placards paraded in front of the Senate's Russell Office Building, on the other side of Capitol Hill.
In its level of funding for all city programs, the budgets approved by the House yesterday was identical to the version approved earlier by Wilson's subcommitte and recommended by the full House Appropriations Committee. Yesterday's action sends the measure to the Senate.
In addition to its nearly $1.4 billion in operating funds, the budget provides $132.8 million in capital construction funds. The federal payment of $191.5 million represents 14 percent of the operating budget, the lowest level since 1965. The federal payment for the current fiscal year is expected to total $250 million.
Also contributing to this story was Washington Post Staff Writer Tom Sherwood. *