A partial settlement in a case that sought to restore abortion access in Guam has been reached.
The settlement, which resulted from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ensures that one of the two laws challenged in the filing, a 1978 law that requires abortions be “performed” in a clinic or hospital, cannot be used to restrict access to medication abortion.
Archbishop Michael Byrnes of the Archdiocese of Agana lamented the settlement.
"Every person who has known the joy of seeing the beauty of a baby and hearing the laughter of one so precious should be saddened about the developments being thrust upon our island today," he said in a statement.
"The fact of the matter is that a child in the womb is a living human being. Even abortion supporters acknowledge that. Their rights as human beings in the womb are no less important than those of the rest of us," Byrnes added.
The lawsuit was filed in January in the federal district court in Guam, seeking to restore abortion access to the island. The lawsuit challenged two outdated and medically unnecessary laws that are preventing physicians from using telemedicine to provide medication abortion to their patients in Guam. In effect, these laws are operating as an abortion ban, the lawsuit said.
Describing the partial settlement as an important victory for reproductive freedom in Guam, Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said everyone should now be able to get safe, legal, affordable abortion care in their communities, no matter where they live.
“There is still work to do to ensure that people in Guam can access the care they need without unnecessary obstacles, but we have taken an essential step forward today,” she said.
According to the ACLU, the lack of local abortion access has created an untenable situation for too many in Guam. Travel to Hawai‘i for care typically requires a multi-day journey, for which airfare alone costs over a thousand dollars.
During the Covid-19 pandemic these burdens were only heightened, ACLU stated, forcing people to take such an extended off-island trip just to get the care they need jeopardizes the confidentiality of their abortion decision.
“This victory would not have been possible without decades of advocacy, led by CHamoru women, to safeguard access to safe and legal abortion in Guam,” said Vanessa L. Williams, an attorney in Guam and co-counsel in the case. “It is impossible to separate our choice of whether and when to have children from every other choice in our lives. Today, we are one step closer to building a community where each of us can participate with dignity and equality.”
Over a decade of research and experience show that the medications used for a medication abortion can safely and effectively be prescribed through telemedicine, ACLU said, adding that using telemedicine for medication abortion can reduce barriers to abortion care, particularly in under-resourced areas, and for some patients allows them to obtain abortion care where they feel safest and have the most privacy.