Camacho: Voided law banning abortion can't be enforced
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Abortion remains legal on Guam, Attorney General Leevin Camacho said, clarifying that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of Roe v. Wade has no impact on a long-voided local law that sought to criminalize the procedure for terminating a pregnancy.
Camacho shed light on the status of P.L. 20-134 against the backdrop of the court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that the right to abortion is not in the U.S. Constitution.
“Given our determination that the 20th Guam Legislature exceeded its legislative authority … and that P.L. 20-134 is therefore void ab initio, the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs has no bearing on the current or future validity of P.L 20-134,” Camacho stated in a legal opinion requested by Sen. Mary Torres and Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes.
P.L. 20-134, passed by the legislature and later voided by the court in 1990, sought a complete abortion ban-- with limited exemptions -- on Guam.
Torres and Barnes sought a clarification on the status of P.L. 20-134, noting that the statute remains on the books even though it has been struck down by the federal court.
Camacho pointed out that a public law preceding P.L. 20-134 has remained in effect.
“The 1978 abortion law remains on the books and has ostensibly been the operative law governing abortions in Guam since its passage,” Camacho wrote.
Camacho, however, noted that the Dobbs ruling held that “the people and their representatives may decide to allow or limit abortion.”
“Moving forward, difficult moral and policy questions such as the decision of whether to allow or limit abortion must be decided by the legislature, not the courts,” the legal opinion stated.
Camacho said the logic of the court’s decision follows that individual states and territories “may regulate abortion for legitimate reasons.”
If such regulations were challenged, “courts cannot ‘substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies,’” Camacho said.
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“With Dobbs, the door is open for the current legislature, if it so chooses, to forge its own path on the ‘profound moral question’ of abortion for these times that may be different than what your predecessors in previous legislatures chose during their respective times in history,” Camacho said.
The court’s move to overturn Roe v. Wade prompted several states to legislate “trigger laws” that provide mechanisms to impose abortion regulations.
Pending in the 36th Guam Legislature is a bill titled "Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022," which proposes to prohibit abortion for women who are in their fifth to sixth week of pregnancy.
“The people of Guam, with confidence, look to our elected policymakers, for our island and our future, to meet this most important of challenges,” Camacho said.