Legislation to permit Medicaid-funded abortions in limited cases passed a House committee today and headed down a legislative track that came to a dead end last year when Republican Gov. John N. Dalton vetoed the bill.
But Virginia's new governor, Democrat Charles S. Robb, has publicly supported Medicaid-funded abortions in cases involving rape, incest or gross fetal abnormality. In fact, it was Robb, then lieutenant governor, who helped a Medicaid abortion bill reach Dalton last year by breaking a tie vote in his role as president of the Senate.
Today, those for and against abortion packed the House Health, Welfare and Institutions committeeroom to present emotional, intense and often personal testimony.
One woman testified that she was unable to pay the cost of an abortion even after discovering that her 5-month-old fetus would be born fatally malformed. "I was forced to carry a fetus that was born with no head or spine," Donna Edwards of the Tidewater area told the committee. Others spoke of the delayed trauma brought on by the "guilt and remorse" of having an abortion.
"I ask you to kill the bills, not the babies," pleaded Brenda Fastabend of Lynchburg, past president of the Virginia Society for Human Life. "The solution to these problems is compassion, not abortion."
Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) urged the committee to consider only the circumstances outlined in his bills that, he said, would apply to approximately 20 women a year.
"The objections you have heard here are to abortion generally," said Glasscock. "These are very, very restricted measures." Last year, Glasscock estimated the cost of limited Medicaid abortions at less than $20,000.
Tonia W. Brown, lobbyist for the Virginia Organization to Keep Abortion Legal, said later she expects the measures to pass both houses.
"We expect Gov. Robb to act favorably," she said.