group calls for more public comment on tougher anti-abortion measures | Guam News

Guam People for Choice, a women’s group opposed to legislation restricting reproductive choice rights, is demanding lawmakers hold briefings, roundtables and community outreach to address ‘tough issues’ surrounding Bill 291-36, the Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022, before rushing “to vote on election-year legislation.”

Bill 291 would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks pregnant. It’s far too early for most women to know they’re pregnant, say opponents of the legislation. Also, there is no exception for cases of rape or incest, and the only exception is medical necessity.

By banning abortions in the very early stages of pregnancy, the measure would contradict the precedent of the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the right to abortion before the viability of a fetus outside the womb, i.e. about 24 weeks pregnant. While states can regulate abortions even in the early stages of pregnancy, they cannot impose an undue burden on the exercise of the right to an abortion, according to case law.

But the Guam Heartbeat Act is based on Texas law, which has escaped judicial review due to its unique method of enforcement. Instead of government enforcement, the measure allows private citizens to sue, for at least $10,000, anyone who may be in violation of the law, except the woman who had the abortion. This includes doctors and anyone assisting or encouraging abortion.

Guam People for Choice was responding to the Guam Republican Party, which had previously expressed support for Bill 291 and challenged a number of arguments against such measures.

“Another claim that these kinds of measures only come in election years to get votes and are backed by a vocal minority, is an absolute farce. Simply put, this bipartisan measure, and others like it, are being introduced because they are the right thing to do, and there is no ‘right time’ to introduce them,” the Republican Party said.

Guam People for Choice said politicians and officials supporting Bill 291 are not telling “the whole truth” behind the measure.

“They ignored the most controversial parts of the bill, such as creating bonuses ($10,000) for doctors or anyone they think they ‘aid or abet’ in an abortion, the unconstitutional ban on the six-week abortion, the refusal to exempt pregnancies as a result of rape or incest, and while ruthlessly dismissing the trauma of a forced pregnancy with clichés like “two wrongs don’t make a right” “said Guam People for Choice in a press release.

The Guam Heartbeat Act was introduced by Democratic Senator Telena Nelson. It is co-sponsored by Republican Senators Chris Duenas, Tony Ada and Frank Blas Jr., and Democratic Senator Amanda Shelton.

Peter Sgro helped draft it and he denies there is any political motivation or timeline behind the bill. Drafting the law involved an eight-month process and the measure began as a referendum initiative, according to Sgro, who said that path would ultimately prove difficult and costly. But before he even started writing the referendum, Sgro said he had become interested in Texas law.

Sgro said he consulted with several people when drafting the provisions, including two doctors, two psychologists, two “pro-choicers”, a retired judge and three local lawyers. Sgro said he also enlisted the help of two “pro-life lawyers” from Texas who worked for “a large national pro-life nonprofit,” adding that the Guam Heartbeat Act was not a simple cut-and-paste copy of Texas law.

“So input from other credible people was involved every step of the way,” Sgro said.

About Michael S. Montanez

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