Here we go again.
Flashback to 1990, when Guam was first thrust into the national spotlight over the issue of abortion. The late Senator Elizabeth Arriola had introduced what was, at the time, the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. Her daughter, attorney Anita Arriola, successfully fought that law in Guam’s federal District Court. The government of Guam appealed the decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned it in April 1992, noting that the law conflicted with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
Flash forward to 2018 – a gubernatorial election year. Enter Bill 232-34, introduced by Sens. Dennis Rodriguez, Jr., Joe S. San Agustin, Telena Nelson, Frank Aguon, Jr., and Tommy Morrison. Rodriguez and Aguon are running for governor, and San Agustin and Nelson are running for re-election. The bill would require physicians to determine the age of a fetus and prohibit an abortion when the fetus is at least 20 weeks old, unless the mother’s life or the life of the unborn child is at stake. The bill would make it a third degree felony for “any person who intentionally or recklessly performs, or attempts to perform an abortion” after 20 weeks. “No penalty will be assessed against the women upon whom the abortion is performed or attempted to be performed,” and the bill requires a physician who performs abortions to submit a detailed “individual abortion report” for each abortion performed.
Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson has called this bill unconstitutional, because, for the time being, Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. She also noted that the 1990 fight, during which she had also served as AG, had cost the government millions of dollars. Also, this recent bill has been rendered moot by the fact that no physician on island performs abortions any more. Or has it? What if a desperate woman shoves a coat hanger up herself? Will she, as the person “attempting to perform” the abortion, be charged with a crime? We just saw a variable of this type of desperation when the young woman who hid her pregnancy gave birth and put her baby in a plastic bag, where it suffocated while she carried it to the hospital.
This bill is just a political ploy to get all the candidates to declare their stance – whether they are “pro-choice” or “pro-birth” (the term “pro-life” is a misnomer for several reasons.
Let’s get two things straight. First, abortion is not an easy decision, no matter the trimester. Late term abortions are usually performed because of a diagnosis of a severe fetal abnormality that would prevent the baby from surviving after birth, or cause the baby to be in severe pain. What a horrible decision for a mother to have to make. Still – it should be her decision. No one else’s.
Second, we can all agree that abortion is not a “good” thing. No woman wants to have an abortion. No woman (well, there may be a few uneducated ones out there) just has unprotected sex and says, “Oh, well, if I get pregnant, I’ll just have an abortion.” It is an invasive medical procedure that is far more expensive than any form of birth control. It is also a deeply personal decision. What if the woman was raped? What if the rape is hard to prove? The “Me Too” movement has shown us that many women simply put up with unwanted sexual advances because of fear of losing their jobs and not being able to support their families.
Many people believe that abortion is murder. But what about the women who murder or maim their unborn child through drug or alcohol abuse? Should we make that a crime, too? Start rounding up women with substance abuse issues who turn up pregnant and locking them up until their child is born, like some warped variation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale?” If a woman claims rape, will she then have to prove that a rape occurred in order to have an abortion? Where does the control stop?
The bottom line is that it is a woman’s choice of what to do with her own body. And only hers. If we take away that choice, desperate women will die trying to self-abort. Those who believe that abortion is murder – fear not. If you believe that, then you also believe that a woman who chooses to snuff out the life of her unborn child – for whatever reason - will someday have to answer for that life. I know women who have had an abortion, for a variety of deeply personal reasons, who think about that decision every day of their lives.
This bill is just a political ploy to get all the candidates to declare their stance – whether they are “pro-choice” or “pro-birth” (the term “pro-life” is a misnomer for several reasons – but that is another column).
Our lawmakers need to focus on making life better for the children who are born on this island. (Si Yu’os Ma’ase to Sen. Mary Torres for her work on a safe haven bill). On teaching women – young and old – about the use of birth control, so they don’t have to make this choice. On educating young girls and women on maintaining control of their bodies so that we don’t keep hearing news reports of male relatives or family acquaintances sexually assaulting (and sometimes impregnating) them. What are we teaching our young women if we take away their right to choose what to do with their bodies if they do get pregnant, or if someone impregnates them against their will?
Senators, focus on those issues. Stop politicizing what is, and what should continue to be, a deeply personal choice for each and every woman.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.