Federal court preserves abortion access on Guam
Updated: Mar 25
By Gina Tabonares-Reilly
Chief Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Friday retained the three-decade-old injunction on a public law banning abortion on Guam, denying Attorney General Douglas Moylan’s plea to have it lifted.
The federal judge pointed out that while arguing that the legal basis for the permanent injunction no longer exists, Moylan failed to address whether the change in law in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health warranted the removal of the permanent injunction on Public Law 20-134.
The court held that “irrespective of Dobbs or any other Supreme Court decision concerning abortion issued after [Guam Public Law 20-134] was enacted, the [public law] was a legal nullity the moment it was passed and can have no force or effect today.”
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P.L. 20-134, which sought criminal punishment for those obtaining and performing abortions, was voided by the federal court in 1990, citing its inconsistency with Roe v. Wade.
The Dobbs ruling reversed Roe in 2022.
Citing arguments by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, the court stated that at the time P.L. 20-134 was enacted, it violated U.S. laws applicable to Guam.
Based on Moylan's failure to respond to the plaintiff's argument, the court said, "it is reasonable to presume that (he) takes no position on their arguments or is not contesting them."
"This ruling means essential, life-saving abortion care will remain accessible on the island, and doctors and their patients will not face potential criminal prosecution for providing or accessing care," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.
ACLU and attorneys Anita Arriola and Vanessa Williams filed a brief earlier this month in opposition to reinstating the ban on behalf of three Guam-licensed physicians, including the only two physicians providing abortions to patients in Guam, and Famalao’an Rights, a Guam-based reproductive justice group.
“The court made the right decision in denying the attorney general’s motion to reinstate a severe abortion ban that carries criminal penalties for patients and providers,” said Meagan Burrows, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
Burrows said the court's decision will ensure that women and people seeking abortion care on Guam are not denied access to the service.
"While we celebrate this victory, we know more attacks could come from politicians cruelly fixated on scoring political points at the expense of the dignity and well-being of women and people in Guam," she added.
"No one deserves to be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will, and we will continue fighting alongside providers, attorneys, and advocates in Guam to preserve access to abortion with every tool at our disposal.”
ACLU said the abortion ban, if revived, would have had severe consequences for people in Guam, who would have faced three untenable scenarios:
Carry a pregnancy to term and give birth against their will;
Make a costly trip and travel several thousand miles each way to obtain abortion outside of Guam, potentially risking criminalization upon their return; or
Face severe criminal charges because they accessed essential health care in their own community.