State Senate votes to lift restrictions on abortion funding

March 25, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

By a resounding 30-17 margin, the Maryland Senate fell in step behind its women members yesterday and agreed to lift restrictions on state funding of abortions for poor women.

The restrictions, in one form or another, date back some 15 years. The state now pays for abortions only when a woman is the victim of rape or incest or faces serious physical or mental health problems by continuing the pregnancy.

An amendment allowing the use of state Medicaid funds to terminate pregnancies was tacked onto the Schaefer administration's welfare reform bill, which then received preliminary approval on a voice vote.

The measure is expected to come up tomorrow or Monday for a final Senate vote; approval seems likely. It then goes to the House of Delegates, where abortion rights advocates say they are optimistic about the bill's chances.

The sponsor of the amendment, Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said the state was "setting these women up for failure" if new work rules in the bill are imposed on welfare mothers without offering them abortion funding as well.

The bill would require selected recipients in Baltimore and the counties of Anne Arundel and Prince George's to go through job training, and they could lose benefits after 18 months unless they found employment or agreed to do community service work.

Seven of the Senate's 10 women members took the floor to support the Hollinger amendment, and all 10 women voted for it. "This gives us an opportunity to right a wrong," said Gloria Lawlah, a Prince George's Democrat.

But Southern Maryland Democrat James C. Simpson, the floor leader of the welfare bill, said the amendment would defeat the measure's purpose of fostering self-sufficiency. "You're making them reliant again on the government to take care of them," said Mr. Simpson, who opposes abortion.

Despite personal reservations about abortion, the governor has supported a woman's right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Since taking office in 1987, however, he has declined to strip the abortion funding restrictions from the annual budget.

In related action, the Senate went along with a controversial administration proposal for a statewide ban on additional welfare payments to mothers who have more children while on the welfare rolls.

An effort by Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, to kill the family cap on the contention that it punishes poor women and their children failed by a 15-29 vote.

The Maryland Catholic Conference reacted with dismay to the Senate's linking of what it called "unrestricted taxpayer funded abortions" to the family cap.

"The underlying message of that linkage is that if you are poor, society doesn't want you," said spokesman J. Kevin Appleby.

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