Abortion did not figure in the early stages of this year’s election season until Frank Aguon and his running mate Alicia Limtiaco launched their write-in campaign before a predominantly pro-life crowd last weekend.
The Guam Democratic Party’s runaway team has thus found a solid constituency that will carry their torch. It may be small — a single-issue lot — but quite intense and loud enough to cause a dent on the campaign of the party’s standard bearers, Lou Leon Guerrero and Joshua Tenorio.
“My loyalty of service is to a higher authority in my life that compels me to fight my best fight for the innocent and protect and defend the unborn,” Aguon told his supporters.
“Do we want a leader who believes that abortion is the way to build a better community?” Aguon asked, in an apparent jab at Leon Guerrero, who served as president of People for Choice when she was a practicing nurse in 1990.
That Aguon instantly became the sweetheart of pro-lifers is a twist of fate. When he was on the campaign trail as Carl Gutierrez’s running mate in 2010, he was nailed to the cross by the Esperansa Project, a pro-life group, which accused him of stalling the Women's Reproductive Health Information Act, a bill that proposed restrictions on abortion on Guam. Then chair of the legislative health care committee, Aguon passed the bill on to the Office of Attorney General to determine the “legal and social implications” of the proposed measure.
That year, the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial team was the subject of assault from the pulpit every Sunday toward the general elections. In 2013, Aguon authored the “Infant Child’s Right to Life Act.” This year, he co-authored “The Unborn Child Protection Act of 2018,” hence recouping some points with the pro-life group.
The abortion debate flared up at the gubernatorial forum hosted Thursday night by the Guam Medical Association, where Leon Guerrero and Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio clashed on several health care issues.
“Life begins at conception, period. We must protect every life,” Tenorio said, adhering to his party’s ideology.
“Being pro-life means loving and caring for all our children, even those who have been unfairly characterized as unworthy or unwanted,” Tenorio said in a subsequent press statement a day after the GMA debate.
As with any civil rights issue, abortion is a splitting discourse. Though predominantly a Catholic community, Guam has its own liberals, as well, who seek the preservation of the endangered Roe vs Wade. A recent full-house forum hosted by the American Association of University Women-Guam Chapter at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa saw the gathering of women who desire to keep their wombs off-limits to government.
While Leon Guerrero may have secured this voting bloc, she opted to play it safe, lest she alienate the Catholic and pro-life vote— which may now be split between Tenorio and Aguon if this sector is indeed voting based on the candidates’ position on abortion and right to life. At the GMA debate, Leon Guerrero skirted around the abortion subject. “I became a nurse because I love life. I am the only one here who has given birth to life,” she said.
In a chapter of the “Asian/Pacific Islander American Women, A Historical Anthology/Chamorro Women and the Politics of Abortion in Guam,” the authors Vivian Loyola Dames, Shirley Hune and Gail M. Nomura celebrated Leon Guerrero’s pro-choice position. “It was through her participation in a women’s consciousness-raising group that she became pro-choice. Lou also attributes her becoming pro-choice to her Catholic education, which she says helped women like Anita (Arriola) and her to become strong and unafraid to speak about their beliefs.”
When asked by her opponent at the GMA debate if she would support pro-life bills should she become governor, Leon Guerrero replied, “As I have said, I love life. I am running because I want to improve the quality of life. I am running to make sure that health care is provided to everybody because I love life. I support life.”
Guam is a paradox. The community shows a semblance of social permissiveness, bearing a relaxed demeanor toward liberal ideals. Homosexuality, for example, is socially embraced. But Guam’s political attitude tells a different a story. Local proposals on gambling and same-sex marriage have repeatedly seen defeat at the legislature. That the Congress building stands 5 ft. across from the Cathedral on the street named “Chalan Santo Papa” may be emblematic of the local lawmakers’ conservative bent.
Guam’s legislative conservatism can be traced back to 1990, when the legislature passed a very restrictive law that banned all abortions—without even an exception for rape, incest or a fetal deformity, defying the 1973 jurisprudence on Roe vs Wade. The Guam OB-GYN Society and Guam Nursing Association sought judicial intervention that culminated in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that “guaranteed all women the right to an abortion through the sixth month of pregnancy.”
In recent years, the Guam Legislature has passed several bills that make it difficult to terminate pregnancy.
In July this year, Guam lost its only doctor who provided pregnancy termination service, seemingly aborting the relevance of abortion policies on Guam. This is a serious civil rights and constitutional issue, but at this point, without a local provider, abortion discourse on Guam is rendered moot and academic. In this election season, talks of right to life and right to choose are more of a political sound bite rather than a real policy debate.
Mar-Vic Cagurangan is the publisher of the Pacific Island Times