Physicians and Advocates File Opposition To Attorney General’s Request to Enforce Guam’s 1990 Total Abortion Ban

March 7, 2023 8:50 pm

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HAGÅTÑA, Guam — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and attorneys Anita Arriola and Vanessa Williams filed a brief today in opposition to Guam Attorney General Douglas Moylan’s request that a federal court lift a decades-old permanent injunction and allow a total abortion ban to take effect. If allowed to take effect, the ban, originally passed in 1990 as Public Law 20-134, would criminalize a patient who has an abortion and physicians who provide abortion care. It would also threaten constitutionally-protected speech about abortion. The law was permanently blocked in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Anita Arriola in 1990, and has remained so for over 30 years.

The brief submitted to the court today was filed by the ACLU and Guam-based attorneys on behalf of three Guam-licensed physicians, including the only two physicians providing abortions to patients in Guam, and Famalao’an Rights, a Guam-based reproductive justice group.

Banning abortion would have particularly severe consequences for people in Guam, who would be faced with three untenable scenarios: Carry a pregnancy to term and give birth against their will; make a costly trip and travel several thousand miles each way to obtain abortion outside of Guam, potentially risking criminalization upon their return; or face severe criminal charges because they accessed essential health care in their own community.

In addition to the health risks posed by the ban, the law would criminalize speech that is squarely protected by the First Amendment, including speech about where abortion is legal, speech counseling patients about abortion as an option, and general advocacy about abortion.

Attorney General Moylan filed his motion despite the vocal opposition of Governor Lou Leon Guerrero, who is also a party in the case. Governor Guerrero’s office filed an opposition last week opposing the revival of P.L. 20-134, and her office has also filed a separate case in the Guam Supreme Court seeking a declaration that the abortion ban is void or otherwise unenforceable.

“The attorney general’s effort to enforce this abortion ban would have devastating consequences for women and people who deserve to be able to access care in Guam. No one should face criminal prosecution because they obtained an abortion or provided their patients with essential, potentially life-saving health care, or because they provided someone else with guidance or a referral to help them get that care” said Meagan Burrows, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Banning abortion in Guam would have severe health and economic consequences that will fall hardest on those who already struggle to obtain adequate health care, including people of color, those trying to make ends meet, and people with disabilities. We hope that the court will see through the Attorney General’s motion, which is in reality a request that he be permitted to co-opt the Guam Legislature’s function by reviving an outdated, long-dormant ban, and effectively repeal three decades’ worth of intervening legislation regulating legal abortion Guam.”

As part of our response to the overturn of Roe v. Wade and bans criminalizing care going into effect, the ACLU launched the Abortion Criminal Defense Initiative earlier this month to help those facing prosecution for providing, supporting, or seeking abortion care and ensure that they will not stand alone at a moment when abortion access is facing relentless, unprecedented attacks. The initiative will confront the criminalization of abortion care by establishing and working alongside a network of experienced criminal defense attorneys across the country prepared to defend health care providers, patients, and those who assist patients facing criminal investigations, charges, or prosecutions.

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