House votes not to fund abortions in proposed health care program Delegates' action sets up likely clash with Senate

March 26, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The House of Delegates voted yesterday not to pay for abortions for girls covered under the governor's proposed health insurance program for children of the working poor.

The action sets up a likely clash with the Senate, which rejected the same proposal last week.

Yesterday's 70-65 vote in the House came on an amendment to the state budget, giving anti-abortion legislators a victory a week after they failed to get similar language in the bill creating the children's health program.

While the emotionally debated issue represents an important point of policy for both sides, the restriction would involve relatively few abortions. State health officials have estimated that if funding were provided, the program would pay for about 60 abortions a year.

The disagreement between the House and Senate over abortion introduces a contentious issue into what had been shaping up as a relatively placid conference on the budget. "Most budget issues are about numbers, and you split the difference," said Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Montgomery County Democrat. "This is about more than just numbers."

However, the budget is not in jeopardy because legislators are constitutionally required to pass a spending bill.

Del. George W. Owings III, the Calvert County Democrat who sponsored the amendment, declined to predict whether it would remain in the final bill. "If the conference committee is stacked, it'll be a moot point," he said.

The Senate appears to be going into the conference with the stronger hand because all three of its conferees -- Democrats Barbara A. Hoffman of Baltimore and Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County and Republican F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County -- support abortion rights. "We're going to hang in tight on our language," said Hoffman, who chairs the Senate budget committee.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings said the House conferees will likely include himself, Kopp and Baltimore Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg -- all Democrats who support abortion rights. Rawlings nonetheless pledged to defend the House position. The governor's health initiative would provide medical coverage to 60,000 children and pregnant women from households with incomes of up to about $32,000 for a family of four. The program would cost about $76 million in its first year, with $47 million of that provided by the federal government.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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