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Roe overturn prompts senators to dig out dead law banning abortion on Guam

Updated: Jun 27




Pro-life advocates stage an anti-abortion rally in front of Sagua Managu in Tamuning in this 2019 file photo. Pacific Island Times

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan


Sen. Mary Torres and Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes are seeking the resurrection of a long-dead law that would have completely prohibited abortion on Guam.


The senators asked Attorney General Leevin Camacho to issue a legal opinion on whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court's recent reversal of Roe v. Wade might have a retroactive effect on Public Law 20-134.

P,L. 20-134, which sparked a heated debate after it was signed on March 19, 1990, was struck down by the District Court of Guam, invoking the now canceled-out 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade.


"After the emotionalism and stridency of the opposing views are stripped away, the strict legal issue before the court is not one difficult of resolution: Is Roe v. Wade the law in the territory of Guam?" the federal court stated in a ruling issued on Oct 13, 1990.


The lawsuit challenging the abortion ban was filed by the Guam Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Guam Nurses Association against then-Gov. Joseph Ada and other officials.


In a summary judgment, the federal court barred the government of Guam from enforcing P.L. 20-134.


Although the local statute had been nullified, Torres and Muna Barnes noted that it was never stricken out of the Guam Code Annotated.


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The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday turned back the clock when it overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the era of women's reproductive choice. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court held that the U. S. Constitution does not seal a right to abortion, leaving individual jurisdictions to negotiate their own reproductive laws.


"While several of these states have initiated 'trigger bans,' Guam has already prohibited these procedures in local statute," Muna Barnes and Torres said in a letter to Camacho.

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P.L. 20-134, which bans abortion procedures following the implantation of a fertilized ovum, also called for a referendum that would have allowed Guam voters to decide whether or not to implement the law.


The referendum, which was to be held on Dec. 1, 1990, was never exercised as a result of the federal court's permanent injunction.


Torres and Muna Barnes sought the attorney general's legal opinion on the following questions:


- Given the district court’s ruling that the abortion ban was void and permanently enjoined, does the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision have any effect?


- Is the referendum mandate in PL 20-134 also required in order for the abortion ban to stand?


- Given that the original date of the referendum referenced in P.L. 20-134 has since passed,can the referendum take place at the next general election or must the legislature amend the law to require a new referendum date?


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