The Virginia House, after a quiet but emotional 90-minute debate, approved a controversial bill late tonight requiring unmarried girls under 18 to obtain parental or judicial consent before having an abortion.
The House beat back repeated attempts to lower the age to as young as 13 and soundly rejected another amendment to require only that a minor consult a licensed counselor before having an abortion.
"Parents ought to have some rights in this very traumatic situation," said Del. Theodore V. Morrison Jr. (D-Newport News), sponsor of the bill. "I know I can't stop abortions . . . . [This is] as much as we can do constitutionally."
The bill, approved on a voice vote, will face a final vote Monday, the deadline for the House to consider its bills.
Del. David G. Brickley (D-Prince William), who argued that the bill should be limited to those under 16, said he didn't want teen-agers to "have a backroom butcher do a job . . . because we in our hallowed halls have decided 18 is the magic number."
Brickley, who has a 16-year-old daughter, was among several legislators who spoke of personal situations that affected their vote on the divisive issue, which legislators say has raised passions like no other issue this session.
The House action reflects a fast-spreading trend in state legislatures to require the involvement of parents in their children's decisions about abortions. In the past decade, 12 states have enacted laws requiring clinics to notify parents of a minor's request for an abortion, and nine states have passed laws requiring the consent of a parent or a juvenile court judge.
Maryland has adopted one of the most liberal of the parental notification or consent laws. While it requires a doctor to notify a minor's parents before an abortion is performed, it allows a second physician to waive the notice if he or she finds it would not be in the minor's best interest. The District does not currently require parents to be notified or give consent.
Del. Joan H. Munford (D-Montgomery), who rarely speaks on the floor, said that as a mother and a grandmother she supported the bill, but as a legislator she could not.
"I have seen young girls literally beaten by their parents" because they were pregnant, Munford said. "The bill is assuming . . . that the parents are going to be loving and caring."
Minors currently account for about 4,000 of the 30,000 abortions performed yearly in Virginia, according to Bennet Greenberg, executive director of the Virginia Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which opposed the bill. Studies show that about two-thirds of them consult a parent before the abortion.
Under the bill, those who do not obtain the consent of a parent would be required to get the approval of a judge in an expedited court hearing, unless a physician determined that the girl's life was at stake.
Opponents said the bill benefited from both a powerful sponsor in Morrison and an election year for all the delegates. They said before tonight's vote at 11:20 that they expected only 30 or 40 of the 100 members to vote against the measure. But they predicted a closer vote in the Senate, where members do not face an election this year.
Morrison, who led the fight on the floor, urged his colleagues to remember "there's another life involved . . . the life of the unborn child. I'm not going to get in a metaphysical argument, that's just what I have to believe."
Opponents argued that a court hearing would be too intimidating and too time-consuming for those minors.
Del. Ford C. Quillen (D-Scott) contended that the bill was inconsistent on its face. If a judge ruled that a minor was not mature enough to decide to have an abortion, he asked Morrison, "how could the court hold that she was capable and competent to . . . have a child and raise that child?"
Judy Goldberg, an associate director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that with tonight's passage, Morrison's bill had progressed further than any other antiabortion bill the state legislature has considered.
The bulk of similar statutes -- 16 of 21 -- won approval in the last four years, following a 1979 Supreme Court decision in Belloti v. Baird that offered states broad outlines on how to write such a law without violating the Constitution. Morrison's bill closely follows those guidelines.
While the high court's ruling showed states the way around the major constitutional pitfalls, a number of state laws enacted after the opinion fell prey to other legal stumbling blocks.
Lower courts have struck down or temporarily enjoined seven statutes, according to Daisy Voigt of Planned Parenthood, for reasons ranging from the failure to provide a confidential court hearing to the lack of a quick appeal.
The debate so far in Virginia's General Assembly has focused more on general questions of a minor's rights than on legal questions.
The bill's supporters have argued that minors cannot obtain a simple hospital operation such as a tonsillectomy without the approval of a parent. Opponents have countered that minors in Virginia can be treated for venereal disease, put a child up for adoption and obtain contraception -- all without parental consent. They also can choose treatment for mental illness or drug abuse on their own, Greenberg said.
In committee, delegates shifted back and forth on the issue. House Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk) said he voted to study the bill in committee last week, partly out of sympathy for the opponents' argument that minors are allowed to make other "procreation" decisions on their own.
But when proponents forced a committee vote on the measure itself, he voted for the bill. "I was trying to reflect the views of my constituents, as I guess a lot of us are," Moss said.
As late as last night, more than a few delegates were still undecided. "I don't want to vote for it," said one senior legislator, "but all my mail goes that way."