Roe reversal reignites Guam debate over 'Heartbeat' bill
Local community as divided as the Supreme Court over abortion rights
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Raising concerns about the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero today asked the 36th Guam Legislature to reject a proposal that would restrict access to abortion on Guam.
In a 5-4 decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court on Friday overturned the five-decade-old landmark ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.
The court’s split ruling, a draft of which was leaked last month, gives individual states the power to enact their own abortion laws.
Pending action in the 36th Guam Legislature is Sen. Telena Cruz Nelson's Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022, which would prohibit abortion for women in their fifth to sixth week of pregnancy.
"I urge our lawmakers to consider these consequences and to reject legislation that interferes with this intensely private decision that should be left to a woman and anyone she chooses to involve in that decision," Loen Guerrero said.
Guam, a predominantly Catholic community, is as deeply divided as the Supreme Court over the Roe v. Wade reversal.
Pro-life advocates described the ruling as "a victory for life."
"Today is a beautiful day for humanity. We are grateful to the U.S. Supreme Court that amid the rhetoric after 50 years, they acknowledged that abortion kills the life of an innocent baby. Today life wins," said Sen. Telena Cruz Nelson, a Democrat and author of the Guam Heartbeat Act.
Gubernatorial candidate Felix Camacho and his running mate Sen. Tony Ada said the court ruling has given Guam the opportunity to make its own decision.
"The Camacho-Ada team acknowledges the truth that life begins at conception and ends through natural death. Our community must always be committed to defending the unborn and continue to support and endorse measures that protect babies in the womb," the Republican team said.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes said the court's decision was "a triumph of good against evil,"
"We are grateful for the courage of the members of the Supreme Court who made the decision of life over death," said the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana. "It’s been nearly a half-century since we witnessed the infamous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the horrific devastation that ensued upon the lives of millions of defenseless and innocent individuals."
Despite the court's ruling, Byrnes said "the fight to end abortion is far from completed," noting that the justices have left the options open for each U.S. jurisdiction to enact its own policy on reproduction.
"On Guam, we pray that prior legislation restricting abortion on island now regains its legal foothold or that new, proposed legislation such as the Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022 becomes law," Byrnes said.
"On our island and everywhere in our country, we cannot be indolent in our work to promote the sanctity of life, because satan is always in our midst," he added.
Byrnes promised to assist women "who are encountering difficulties and hard decisions to make."
Leon Guerrero said the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which criminalizes the proper medical procedure for women needing an abortion, would curtail women's access to comprehensive health care that encompasses reproductive health and the "very intimate, personal decision to terminate a pregnancy."
"Younger generations do not remember a time before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America. But I do. I will never forget my experience as a 22-year-old nursing student doing my senior year clinical rotations in a southern California hospital when I tended to a young woman who almost bled to death because of a botched 'back-alley' abortion," the governor said.
"Literally, with the sweep of a pen, a majority of the justices on the United States Supreme Court have cut off rights and services women all over our country and our island have relied on, rights that recognize our dignity and secure our freedom to choose what is best for us," she added.
Jayne Flores, executive director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, said Guam can eliminate the need for abortion by reducing instances of unintended pregnancy.
"For example, lawmakers can introduce legislation that supports comprehensive sex education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception; insurance coverage of and public funding for family planning services, including free birth control; greater access to emergency contraception (which prevents pregnancy and does not cause abortion); and programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse.
"When women are able to prevent unintended pregnancy, they do not have to make the difficult decision of whether to have an abortion. We absolutely encourage religious and other groups that want to stop abortion on Guam to address this issue by promoting comprehensive sex education, including the concepts of abstinence and birth control; and by educating our community about the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault," Flores said.
Flores said enacting laws that prohibit abortion does not actually stop abortion.
"Women will find ways to terminate the pregnancy even at great cost to their health and safety, as they have for thousands of years. Today, we have the ability to nearly eliminate the need for abortion, and it starts with implementing common-sense measures that curb unwanted pregnancies," she said.
"We call on our lawmakers and our community to implement such measures, as they are a much more effective and compassionate approach to addressing this issue,” Flores added.
Senatorial candidate Will Parkinson said Guam needs "mobilization and action" to protect the island residents' rights.
"This overturning of Roe v. Wade without grounding it in legal precedence shows nakedly that partisan ideologues are legislating from the bench and putting at risk the health and safety of millions of women everywhere," said Parkinson, a Democrat.
"This is just the beginning of a new era of conservative activist judges legislating from the bench. How far will this Supreme Court go to roll back hard-fought rights?"