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Ninth Circuit reinstates abortion restriction on Guam

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Senator seeks to repeal the requirement for in-person consultation



By Pacific Island Times News Staff


A Guam senator today filed a bill that would eliminate the requirement for in-person consultation before receiving an abortion, repealing a public law that was just reinstated by a federal appeals court panel this week.


On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voided a judge's 2021 ruling that blocked enforcement of the law, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade.


The appeals court’s ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Guam-based attorney Vanessa L. Williams, who sued the government on behalf of two Hawaii-based physicians Shandhini Raidoo and Bliss Kaneshiro, who provide abortion care by telemedicine to patients in Guam, where they are both licensed.


The Ninth Circuit panel nullified Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood's 2021 preliminary injunction that subsequently allowed the two OB-GYNs to remotely prescribe medication abortion to their Guam patients through telemedicine and without first conducting an in-person consultation.


“Guam’s statute sets a minimum disclosure requirement for informed consent, not a maximum. It does not prevent the treating doctor from providing the same information or more information; it merely requires that patients receive certain information in person before receiving an abortion,” the Ninth Circuit decision states.


"Even assuming that doctors who perform abortions are otherwise similarly situated to doctors who perform other medical services, it was rational for the Guam legislature to treat them differently because abortion presents different considerations than other medical procedures.”


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In the Guam legislature, Democratic Sen. William A. Parkinson today introduced Bill 160-37, which would remove the barriers to abortion on island.


The bill would allow for virtual medical consultations so that doctors who are off-island may prescribe medication abortion to their patients.


“Modern technology has allowed doctors to have consultations virtually,” Parkinson said. “We saw this during Covid-19 when doctors started having virtual appointments with their patients. There is no reason, with the technology we have at hand, that an in-person consultation to receive an abortion should be a requirement.”


The bill would also remove a requirement that printed materials regarding various information about abortion be given to the patient prior to receiving one.


“Removing this second requirement is also essential for these off-island healthcare providers,” Parkinson said. “If they don’t have access to these printed materials, they can’t prescribe abortions. That is not right. Doctors go through years of education to ensure the safety of their patients, and there is nothing in these printed materials that a doctor can not inform the patient of themselves.”

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The ACLU is expected to elevate the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.


“We are deeply disappointed that the court is permitting medically unnecessary government mandates to once again be enforced,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Today’s decision imposes unnecessary obstacles on people seeking abortion in Guam, but make no mistake, abortion remains legal in Guam and we will continue to do everything in our power to make sure it stays both legal and accessible.”


“The evidence shows this requirement looks nothing like ‘informed consent’ and provides no health benefit for people in Guam,” said Vanessa L. Williams, an attorney in Guam and co-counsel in the case.


“A person’s health should guide important medical decisions throughout pregnancy, not politics. We’ll continue fighting with everything in our power to ensure our family members, neighbors, and everyone in Guam can get the care they need, free from government intrusion.”


Jayne, Fores, director of Guam's Bureau of Women's Affairs, described the Ninth Circuit Court's ruling as "“very disappointing.”


Flores noted that Guam law does not require in-person consultation for purposes of obtaining informed consent for any other type of virtual medical consultation. However, she noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2022 Dobbs decision wrote that “abortion is fundamentally different.”


‘Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit states from legislating abortion in this manner, where laws can regulate the circumstances under which medical advice may be provided,” Flores said.


Flores thanked Parkinson for introducing Bill 160-37.


"These amendments reduce some of the obstacles to receiving this important medical procedure on Guam," she said. “We also encourage anyone who is sexually active to seek out the free birth control options offered at our Department of Public Health and Social Services’ Family Planning Clinic at the Northern Health Center."


"We encourage the use of condoms, not only to protect against unwanted pregnancy but also, to protect against sexually transmitted diseases," she added.



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