The war on abortion is not over
There’s no returning to the “dark days” of the “back-alley” procedures, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said when she vetoed the Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022, which would have prohibited abortions in the fifth week of pregnancy.
She vetoed Bill 291-36 on Dec. 28. The timing was ironic, according to Father Romeo Convocar, vicar general of the Archdiocese, who noted that the governor rejected the anti-abortion bill on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. "The feast commemorates the young children in Bethlehem who were massacred by King Herod of Judea in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus," Convocar said in a statement.
Nothing divides Guam as furiously as abortion does. The 36th Guam Legislature’s split vote on Sen. Telena Nelson’s Bill 291-36 represented the community’s cleft sentiments.
In the end, the legislature’s failure to override the governor’s veto has kept the status quo in place.
Fetal “heartbeat” bills have become the anti-abortion legislative measure of choice in the local and national debate on reproductive health and rights.
The war was further reignited in June 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the landmark ruling on Roe v Wade in 1973. In Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Supreme Court held that abortion is not a right embedded in the Constitution, and declared that a reproductive policy must be decided by individual U.S. jurisdictions.
"While many of us mourn the sudden and shocking reversal of rights that are widely regarded as fundamental to the wholeness of every woman, it falls upon us, as a community, to determine whether these rights are worth protecting," the governor said in her veto message.
The Guam Heartbeat Act, modeled after the Texas law that bans abortions after the detection of embryonic or fetal cardiac, would also have cleared the way for a citizen-led civil action against those who perform the procedure.
"The incentivized vigilantism of this already deeply-flawed bill is reprehensible. Seeking to turn brother against brother, and sister against sister, the enforcement mechanism of this bill appeals to one of our most base tendencies as human beings: greed," the governor said.
While abortion is legal on Guam, the procedure has not been readily accessible since 2018 following the retirement of the only doctor who performed the service.
But just the same, the governor maintained that women seeking to terminate their pregnancies must not be deprived of options. The alternative can be worse, she warned.
"As a young nurse, I assisted in the treatment of women whose desperate circumstances led them to pursue dangerous 'back alley' abortions, at great risk to their lives," the governor said.
"I cannot fathom returning to those dark days. Mindful of the nuances and complexities inherent in every pregnancy, I refuse to support any measure that fails to even acknowledge the liberty and equality interests of the citizens affected by it, and imposes government control over women's bodies, lives, and, ultimately, their futures. I refuse to reduce women to their wombs.”
The governor's veto of Bill 291-36 may have settled the debate for now. But the pro-life camp is not about to give up. The war is not over.
The question about the validity of an old law that sought a total ban on abortion on Guam keeps popping up.
In 1990, the District Court of Guam declared Public Law 20-134 unconstitutional, and therefore void. The decision was based on a lawsuit filed by the Guam Society of Obstetricians against then-Gov. Joseph Ada.
The court ordered Ada and the Guam Election Commission to be permanently restrained from “operating, administering, enforcing or executing” any of the provisions of the challenged law.
It’s a dead law, according to now-former attorney general Leevin Camacho. But his successor, Doug Moylan, vowed to resurrect P.L. 20-134, even if it needs to be argued before the courts.
The abortion debate tested the executive and the legislative branches of government. And once again, it is bound to test the Guam judiciary. By then, the reproductive rights defenders and the morality warriors will be ready to go back to the battlefield.