Telemedicine abortion continues in Guam after Roe is overturned

HONOLULU (AP) — Guam’s attorney general said a 1990 law that banned virtually all abortions is invalid and won’t go into effect even though the U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down the nation’s right to abortion outlined in Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion across the country.

That means the status quo that allows women to obtain abortions via telemedicine can continue in the predominantly Catholic US territory in the Pacific.

Attorney General Leevin Taitano Camacho issued his opinion last week in response to senators’ questions about whether the annulment of Roe v. Wade would affect the 1990 law.

That law made it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion except to save a woman’s life or prevent serious danger to her health. The US District Court in Guam blocked its application in 1992, citing Roe v. Wade. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld this ruling.

Camacho told senators in a memo that the 1990 law violated the US Constitution and Guam’s Organic Law. He said the Legislature didn’t have the power to pass it in the first place, overturning it.

Instead, abortion in Guam continues to be governed by a 1978 law that allows abortion in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. This law also allows the procedure up to 26 weeks in the event of rape or incest, if the child is born with a serious physical or mental defect, or if there is a substantial risk that the pregnancy could endanger the life or health of the mother. .

In practice, however, the last Guam doctor to perform surgical abortions retired in 2018. That means the only way people can legally get abortions without leaving the island is to take pills sent through the mail. This is usually only possible up to 10 or 11 weeks of gestation.

Traveling for an abortion is particularly onerous for residents of Guam, as the island is 3,800 miles (6,100 kilometers) west of Hawaii, the closest US state where the procedure is legal.

A 2012 Guam law also required that people undergoing abortions receive information about the procedure in person 24 hours in advance.

In September, a judge issued an injunction against that provision, saying the information could be provided via live face-to-face video conference.

On June 28, the Guam attorney general petitioned the Ninth Circuit to reverse this injunction, citing the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court and related precedents.

Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said she hopes the appeals court upholds the injunction.

“But even if that court order is lifted, it is important to remember that telemedicine abortion will remain legal in Guam,” he said in an email. “And we will continue to fight to remove burdensome and medically unnecessary barriers that make it difficult for people to get the care they need.”

Camacho told lawmakers in his memo that after the Roe v. Wade, it was up to the Legislature and not the courts to decide whether to allow or limit abortion. He said the Legislature could “forge its own path” on the issue.

Even before the high court ruling, the Guam legislature was debating a bill that would ban abortion once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks.

Sen. Mary Camacho Torres, one of the senators who asked the attorney general for his opinion, said she would back new abortion legislation only if lawmakers put the question directly to Guam voters.

Torres said in an email that he “will not support any measure to restrict or expand abortion procedures in Guam unless it has a referendum requirement attached to it.”


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