Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on abortion probably will have no effect in Maryland and the District of Columbia, which are likely to continue to pay for abortions for low-income women, using their own funds without federal reimbursement, officials said yesterday.
Virginia, on the other hand, which has been denying nearly all public funding for abortion, will continue to do that, state health commissioner James B. Kenley said.
Elsewhere there will be change, however. The court ruling that Congress and the legislatures may cut off funding for abortions under Medicaid could slash the number of Medicaid abortions in California and many other states.
Their legislatures had voted to cut back public funding for abortion, but the courts had blocked the cutbacks. Ow, the legislatures will be free to act.
At present, only 10 jurisdictions, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have local laws or policies of paying for most abortions for low-income women. The others are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington State, according to a recent survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
In 1978, these jurisdictions together paid for about 70,000 abortions for low-income women out of their own funds. In addition, 120,000 state-funded abortions were performed in states that had some restriction on abortion funding but were forced to provide it by the state courts.
All these states will now be free to put restrictions into effect, which probably will mean a substantial reduction in state-funded abortions. A good example is California, which in 1978 paid for 100,000 abortions for low-income women (out of the national 120,000) because of state court rulings. Language tentatively adopted by the legislature would reduce that annual figure to about 24,000, state officials said yesterday.
Immediate reaction to yesterday's decision followed the lines already laid out in the congressional and court battles over abortion funding for the past several years.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), sponsor of the amendment barring federal funding of medicaid abortions except in a small number of situations affecting at most only a few thousand low-income women a year, said he is "exultant, delighted and pleased and happy" and is going to go all-out for a constitutional amendment barring all abortions, even those paid for by the pregnant women herself.
Hyde's call for a constitutional amendment barring abortion was joined by the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Catholic Bishops' Committee for a Pro-Life Amendment.
Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, said "We must intensify our efforts in working for a human life amendment to the Constitution." Other antiabortion groups also joined in the call for a constitutional amendment.
On the other hand, supporters of the right to abortion called the court ruling yesterday "cruel" and "unconscionable," condemning low-income women to have children they don't want, even when this may make them ill or when the child is known in advance to be deformed.
Planned-Parenthood called the decision "a national disgrace. We deplore the court's finding that poor women must now be forced to bear the financial burden of medically necessary abortions or be forced to bear a child."
The American Civil Liberties Union said the ruling is "cruel abandonment of the constititional guarantee of equal justice . . . for the rich and for the poor . . . [it] will force poor women into life-threatening backstreet abortions or to continuing pregnancies at the cost of their life, their health, and the health and well-being of their children."
The National Abortion Rights Action League said, "It's an unconscionable government intrusion into private decisions on fertility and pregnancy."
In Maryland, the state legislature determines the rules on state funding of abortions for low-income women. For the fiscal year starting today it has decreed that the state will pay for an abortion if the mother's life is in danger, if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, if there are serious mental or physical health risks. A similar relatively liberal policy resulted in 6,158 state-funded Medicaid abortions in fiscal 1979. The policy can be changed only by the legislature, which doesn't meet again until next year.
In the District of Columbia, then-director of human resources. Albert Russo declared in 1977 that despite the Hyde amendment, the District would continue to fund abortion on demand for low-income women. This policy is still in effect, and sources said yesterday it probably will stay in effect.
In Virginia, the Board of Health several years ago adopted a strict antiabortion stance, allowing funding by the state where the women's life was endangered (very few cases). Although a court ruling put pressure on the state to expand this definition, Virginia has funded almost no abortions and Commissioner Kenley doesn't expect this to change, according to Paul Edwards, press secretary to the governor.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 295,000 abortions were funded in 1977 by the federal and state governments under Medicaid. In 1978, however, as a result of the Hyde amendment, this dropped to 191,700 funded wholly by the states and 2,100 funded by the states and the federal government together under the stringent limits of the Hyde amendment. As indicated, about 70,000 were funded by states that chose to continue their programs even though federal funding for most abortions would be denied. The rest were funded by California and about a dozen other where state courts forced the states to do so.
In 1978, according to the Guttmacher Institute, there were about 1,374,000 legal abortions, involving 28.9 percent of all pregnancies (excluding those ended by natural miscarriages). This includes woman of all ages and economic means, most of whom pay for the abortions themselves. The Institute estimates that 432,000 low-income women each year would have Medicaid abortions if they were available. Government sources have put this figure at 470,000.