Antiabortion activists have failed to win a place on the June ballot for a California initiative that would have cut off most state funds for abortions and diverted the money to help handicapped children and premature babies.
Abortion rights leaders had feared that the initiative, if successful, would provide a politically potent impetus to kill abortion funds for poor women nationwide. A statement by the "Children's Fund" campaign said it failed by "the narrowest of margins" to collect the necessary 630,136 signatures for the initiative by Thursday's deadline.
California spends about $30 million each year for about 85,000 state-funded abortions.
Renate Penney, a campaign spokeswoman, declined to say how many signatures were collected but said the response in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties in particular had been less than they had hoped. She indicated that her group may try again.
Signatures are still being collected for an antiabortion initiative facing a Feb. 21 deadline. Abortion-rights leaders give it far less chance of passing because it prohibits state-funded abortions in all circumstances.
Nanette Falkenberg, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League in Washington, had called the Children's Fund initiative "politically pretty astute" because it channeled abortion funds to programs helping children and still allowed the state to pay for the abortion of a poor woman whose life was endangered by pregnancy.
That concession had divided the antiabortion movement here, leading to the two separate initiative campaigns. Many antiabortion advocates argued that the Children's Fund measure would allow doctors to assert at will that a woman's life was in danger and would do little to reduce the number of state-funded abortions.
Falkenberg said today that she thought the split in antiabortion ranks was significant. She said it showed that attempts to moderate the movement's approach would alienate its strongest supporters, even if moderates had the best chance of swaying public opinion. She said "pro-choice" activists are well organized in California and believe they can beat the remaining antiabortion measure if it gets on the ballot.
California is one of 13 states that still permit public-funded abortions. A measure against public funding passed narrowly on the Colorado ballot in 1984. Signatures are being sought for similar moves in Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts, Falkenberg said.
"This result in California is extremely significant because it will affect those other states," she said.
Maryland and the District of Columbia subsidize medically prescribed abortions for women on welfare. In Virginia, state funds can be used only for abortions in cases of rape, incest, severe deformity of the fetus or danger to the life of the woman.