In a sign of their growing political clout, anti-abortion forces for the first time in 12 years appear to have the necessary sympathizers in Michigan's Legislature to override the governor's veto of a bill banning state funding for Medicaid abortions.
But a dispute between leaders of the anti-abortion movement and state Republican leaders over which candidate to back in an upcoming special election could cause the anti-abortion coalition to unravel.
The anti-abortion leaders claim that they finally have the two-thirds majorities needed in both the Republican-controlled state Senate and the Democratic-controlled state House of Representatives for a veto override, and predict that the House will pass the override today.
"We've built a strong group of pro-life legislators in the House and Senate, people who care a lot about this issue--both Democrats and Republicans," said Jane Muldoon, executive director of Right to Life of Michigan. "We are finally going to take the state out of the business of funding abortions."
If the override is successful, just 12 states, including California, and the District of Columbia would still be funding abortions through Medicaid, a state-run health program for the poor.
Federal funding for abortions ended in 1977. Last fall, Colorado voters passed a referendum ending state funding for abortions there. The Legislature in North Carolina, the only state in the Deep South providing abortion funding, is currently studying a bill similar to Michigan's ban, while a referendum is in the works to ban Medicaid funding for abortions in Massachusetts.
Michigan now spends close to $6 million for about 19,000 Medicaid abortions annually, nearly half of the 40,000 abortions performed in the state each year. Medicaid funding would only be allowed to continue in instances where a pregnancy threatened the life of the mother, an exception allowed in 31 states.
Today's House vote will be the climax of one of the longest-running political disputes in Michigan. Although the Senate should easily override Democratic Gov. James J. Blanchard's veto next week, anti-abortion forces have always been at least one or two votes short in the House. However, a conservative surge in the blue-collar suburbs of Detroit in last November's elections ousted four prominent pro-choice legislators, apparently putting the Right to Life movement one or two votes over the two-thirds majority needed in the House.
If the override fails, some legislators say that it will be due only to the dispute between leaders of the anti-abortion movement and the Republican state leadership.
The Republicans are hanging on to a one-vote majority in the state Senate, and a special election will be held on March 26 to fill a vacant Senate seat from Grand Rapids.
Both candidates for the post are anti-abortion advocates, and late last week, the Republican leadership in Lansing began to get strong indications that Right to Life of Michigan would meet this Wednesday to endorse the Democrat. As a result, at least four Republican, anti-abortion House members have threatened not to support the override.
Right to Life officials, who say they won't give in to Republican pressure, charge that the party is guilty of political blackmail.
"We are trying to maintain our bipartisanship and the Republicans are trying to blackmail us," said Luke Wilson, a spokesman for Right to Life of Michigan. "If we were to give in and become a wing of the Republican Party, the pro-life movement wouldn't have a future. We can't allow that to happen."