Guam Governor Lourdes Leon Guerrero has run into a serious obstacle in her desire to see abortion rights thrive on the island–doctors who refuse to perform the procedure. The U.S. territory, located in Micronesia in the western Pacific, is over 80% Catholic and no doctors have agreed to offer abortions since the island’s last abortion provider retired last year.
Abortion is legal in Guam up to 13 weeks, but doctors can deny the service unless there is a medical emergency. However, no abortions have been reported to Guam’s Office of Vital Statistics since last June. Women who terminate a pregnancy without a doctor’s aid could be charged with a felony.
Guerrero, Guam’s first female governor, advocated for expanding abortion rights during the campaign and continues to push for them in office. She told the Associated Press during a phone interview that, “I truly believe that women should have control over their own bodies,” adding, “I’m very sad and very nervous about what’s happening across the nation.”
Guerrero called Guam’s current abortion law “very restrictive” and is concerned that women who do not want to carry a pregnancy to term will seek out potentially life-threatening alternatives. She said, “I’m concerned about it going underground because then we can’t really control it, we can’t really monitor, we can’t really make sure that the women are doing it in an environment that is conducive to a healthy recovery. According to Time, Guerrero is working to recruit doctors to move to Guam and establish abortion clinics.
The discussions on Guam are taking place against the backdrop of the recent spate of abortion laws passed by state legislatures this year. Illinois declared abortion a “fundamental right,” regardless of how challenges to Roe v. Wade might be decided in the Supreme Court. New York expanded the number of health care practitioners who can perform the procedure and legalized abortions after 24 weeks for reasons other than when the mother’s life is in danger. On the other side of the divide, several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, placed restrictions on abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy.
Women on Guam who desire abortions typically make the eight-hour flight to Hawaii. However, University of Hawaii professor and OBGYN Dr. Bliss Kaneshiro said that very few women from Guam have sought an abortion in Hawaii and that none of the procedures were elective. In speaking with Time Magazine, Dr. Kaneshiro expressed her displeasure with the lack of abortion providers in Guam and repeated the pro-choice mantra that abortion is a women’s health issue. “Abortion care is pretty basic care – we know that many women will need an abortion during the course of their reproductive years. We know that making abortion inaccessible doesn’t eliminate it, it forces women to seek unsafe measures to end a pregnancy.”
During last year’s campaign for Governor of Guam, former Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio took issue with Guerrero’s desire to expand abortion rights. He argued that “Life begins at conception, period, Ladies and gentlemen, right to life. We must protect every life.”
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”
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