Bills like 291 could do more harm
Updated: Oct 20, 2022
I got pregnant for the first time early in 1990. My husband and I were so excited. One day in April, when I was about 11 weeks along, I went to use the bathroom and my heart stopped. Spots of blood. I called my doctor and he said to not panic - spotting is common in the first trimester. But the spotting soon turned to full-on bleeding. Then horrible cramps, followed by clots the size of my fist.
After a few hours of laying on a gurney bleeding in the emergency room of GMH, they determined that I was indeed having a miscarriage, and did a medical procedure called a “D and C”. I had lost so much blood that they admitted me to the hospital.
They put an automatic blood pressure cuff on my arm, and every hour it kicked in, waking me up. The nurse told me they had to monitor me because my blood pressure was still really low. I told her I normally have low blood pressure. “No one’s blood pressure is this low,” she replied.
When I look back on that experience, I wonder if there was some hesitancy to treat me right away because Public Law 20-134 had just been enacted the month before. It was at the time the strictest abortion law in the nation - no exceptions, except if the life of the mother is in danger.
Bill 291, the “Guam Heartbeat Act,” could do that - do more harm - by way of causing physicians to wait to perform a D and C until the life of the mother is really hanging in the balance.
Across the country, media outlets like the New York Times, NPR, the Washington Post, and the Texas Tribune are reporting that doctors in states that now have laws similar to the Texas Heartbeat Act worry that treating miscarriages or complicated situations (like a pregnant patient who has lupus or cancer) may jeopardize their medical practice if someone accuses them of performing an “abortion.”
Because these laws potentially criminalize anyone who aids or abets an abortion, how long do you let a woman bleed if you suspect she is having a miscarriage so that you don’t jeopardize your medical license? Do you prescribe cancer or lupus medication even though it could cause the patient to miscarry?
In a June 24 report on NPR, Dr. Louise King, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said, “Laws will exist that ask [physicians] to deprioritize the person in front of them and to act in a way that is medically harmful.” King noted in the report that these laws forcing physicians to make impossible choices already exist in some southern states.
The irony is that, during a time when many places around the country, including Guam, are struggling to attract OB-GYNs to care for our population’s reproductive health needs - including high-risk pregnancies - laws like 291 will act as a deterrent.
Who will want to come out here and care for our pregnant mothers or provide any reproductive health care needs (think uterine cancer, etc.) if their care involves a decision that could inadvertently label them an abortionist and land them in our civil justice system - or worse, cost them their medical license?
Guam’s current and future lawmakers need to take note: When you look at bills like 291 and think, “Oh, it’s anti-abortion legislation, I’m going to support it,” think again. Actually, study the proposed legislation and what it could do in our community before you just copy and paste it from somewhere else and slap your name onto it.
Your support of such legislation will actually result in preventing the females of our island from getting the reproductive health care they need, either to have healthy babies, or save their lives or both.
That is exactly what the threat of Bill 291's passage could be doing to our community right now.
Jayne Flores is a mother, grandmother, member of Guam People for Choice and a lifelong journalist.