Outside Delegate Marsha Perry's office window, protesters for and against abortion gather by the State House steps Friday afternoon.

They are waiting for a joint House and Senate committee, including theCrofton Democrat, to hear debate on proposed abortion rights and anti-abortion legislation.

Perry's mind is elsewhere. She has rounded up another co-sponsor for legislation that would have the state spend $450,000 in fiscal 1992, which begins July, on a federal nutrition program for pregnant women and their children.

"We have a lot of people screaming about abortion," Perry said. "I want people screaming about healthy childrenand taking care of them once they are born."

Nineteen states and Washington, D.C. help finance the federal Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC program, Perry said. Maryland does not.

The federal government spent $20 million last year providing food and nutritional information to 63,000 Maryland women, whose families earn less than $19,500 annually, and their childrenthrough WIC. Still, it does not reach 46,000 eligible women and infants, including 3,000 in Anne Arundel County, Perry said.

Without proper nutrition, mothers frequently give birth prematurely, Perry said. Malnutrition and low birth weights give rise to illness and infantmortality.

Every dollar spent on general WIC care saves $3 in future health costs, according to the the non-profit Maryland Food Committee, which is lobbying the state to finance WIC.

"These (poverty-level) babies become Medicaid babies once theyare born," Perry said. "Some people believe the money we save on Medicaid in one budget cycle will be more than $500,000."

Wary of recession, a $400 million budget deficit and angry taxpayers, legislative leaders have asked rank-and-file lawmakers to spurn new spending programs.

Still, Perry has collected 64 co-sponsors, including eight members of the House ofDelegates from Anne Arundel. The House has 141 members.

"Bills like Marsha's are important, no question about it," said Delegate John Astle, D-Annapolis, a member of the Appropriations Committee that will hear Perry's bill. "The downside is that it asks for money. We onlyhave a finite amount of money to deal with."

Perry responds, "When we send up a Patriot missile for $1 million and we say as a state we don't have $500,000 for kids, that's real hard for me to buy."

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