ACLU, Local Attorney File Lawsuit to Restore Abortion Access in Guam

January 27, 2021 5:45 pm

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HAGÅTÑA, Guam — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a new lawsuit in Guam today challenging two laws that are blocking abortion access on the island.

The two laws — a requirement that medication abortions be “performed” in a clinic or hospital, and an in-person state-mandated counseling law — are preventing physicians from using telemedicine to provide medication abortion. The statutes are woefully out of date with current standards of care for abortion and are effectively functioning as an abortion ban.

Because of the present lack of access to abortion on the island, people in Guam have been forced to travel nearly 4,000 miles each way to Hawai’i, or even further, just to obtain care. The process typically requires a multi-day journey, for which airfare alone costs over a thousand dollars. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these burdens are only heightened, with travel now carrying risk of exposure to the virus. Moreover, forcing people to take such an extended off-island trip just to get the care they need jeopardizes the confidentiality of their abortion decision.

“A person in Guam who has made the decision to have an abortion, should be able to access the care they need in their community — without a 4,000-mile flight, without government-imposed barriers, and without shame,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The constitutional right to abortion is meaningless without genuine access, and that is as true in Guam as it is anywhere else in the United States. The ACLU is proud to stand with Guamanians, who have been fighting to ensure safe and legal access to abortion in Guam for more than four decades.”

As with all abortion restrictions, these laws disproportionately harm people of color and people with low incomes: In Guam, the burdens posed by these laws fall most heavily on Chamorro people (the Indigenous people of the Mariana Islands). Lack of abortion access in Guam also creates unique burdens for the many U.S. servicemembers (and military dependents) who live on the island and are subjected to additional federal laws designed to push abortion out of reach.

“Advocates in Guam, led by Chamorro women, have long fought to secure safe and legal abortion access for our island, and I am proud to file this lawsuit as part of that legacy today,” said Vanessa Williams, an attorney in Guam and co-counsel in the case. “Guamanians have the same constitutional right to abortion as people who live anywhere else in the United States and should not be forced to travel off the island to exercise that right. This perpetuates the second-class citizenship Guamanians face, and exacerbates the issues of poverty, violence, and inequality our women suffer at disproportionate rates. Our families and community cannot thrive until we are free to make decisions that are best for our lives.”

Over a decade of research and experience show that the medications used for a medication abortion can safely and effectively be prescribed through telemedicine. Using telemedicine for medication abortion can reduce barriers to abortion care, particularly in under-resourced areas, and, for some patients, allows them to obtain abortion care where they feel safest and have the most privacy.

“Every pregnancy and every person’s circumstance is different,” said Dr. Shandhini Raidoo, a plaintiff in the case. “When someone decides to end or continue a pregnancy it is essential they have access to safe medical care. I have heard firsthand from Guamanians how these laws put their health, their lives, and their families at risk. We are bringing this lawsuit so one else is denied access to the care they need.”

This lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Vanessa L. Williams on behalf of two Guam-licensed physicians.

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