Victory: Settlement in ACLU Challenge Will Restore Abortion Access in Guam

March 5, 2021 12:45 pm

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HAGÅTÑA, Guam — Two Guam-licensed physicians, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Guam-based attorney Vanessa L. Williams, have secured a partial settlement in the January 2021 case that will restore abortion access in Guam.

The settlement ensures that one of the two laws challenged in the filing, a 1978 law that requires abortions be “performed” in a clinic or hospital, cannot be used to restrict access to medication abortion. Until now, residents of Guam were not able to access abortion care without leaving the island and flying nearly 4,000 miles each way to Hawai‘i — or even further — just to receive care. The settlement clears the way for people in Guam to obtain medication abortion through telemedicine without having to leave the island.

The case will continue, with arguments on March 18 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam regarding the second law challenged in the suit, which prevents patients from using telemedicine to obtain certain state-mandated information prior to an abortion.

“This is an important victory for reproductive freedom in Guam,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Everyone should be able to get safe, legal, affordable abortion care in their communities, no matter where they live. There is still work to do to ensure that people in Guam can access the care they need without unnecessary obstacles, but we have taken an essential step forward today.”

The lack of local abortion access has created an untenable situation for too many in Guam. Travel to Hawai‘i for care typically requires a multi-day journey, for which airfare alone costs over a thousand dollars. During the COVID-19 pandemic these burdens were only heightened. And forcing people to take such an extended off-island trip just to get the care they need jeopardizes the confidentiality of their abortion decision.

As with all abortion restrictions, the challenged 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). Moreover, rates of poverty, poor health, and domestic violence and sexual assault in Guam are among the highest in the United States.

“This victory would not have been possible without decades of advocacy, led by CHamoru women, to safeguard access to safe and legal abortion in Guam,” said Vanessa L. Williams, an attorney in Guam and co-counsel in the case. “It is impossible to separate our choice of whether and when to have children from every other choice in our lives. Today, we are one step closer to building a community where each of us can participate with dignity and equality.”

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.

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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