HONOLULU — Women in the remote U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands will likely have to travel farther than other Americans to terminate a pregnancy if the Supreme Court overturns a precedent that established a nationwide right to abortion in the United States .
Hawaii is the closest US state where abortion is legal under local law. Even so, Honolulu is 3,800 miles (6,100 kilometers), or about 50% farther than Boston from Los Angeles.
“For a lot of people seeking abortion care, it might as well be over the moon,” said Vanessa L. Williams, an attorney with the Guam People for Choice group.
Getting an abortion is already difficult on Guam, a small, heavily Catholic island of about 170,000 people south of Japan.
The last doctor to perform surgical abortions there retired in 2018. Two doctors licensed in Guam who live in Hawaii see patients virtually and mail them pills for medical abortions. But this alternative is only available up to 11 weeks of gestation.
It is now possible that even this limited telehealth option will disappear.
A recently leaked draft opinion said the Supreme Court could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and allow individual states to ban abortion. About half of them probably would, say abortion rights advocates. Oklahoma got a head start on Wednesday when its governor signed a measure banning all abortions with few exceptions.
The three US Pacific territories — Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa — also have the potential to enact bans, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights. None have legal protections for abortion, and they could revive old abortion bans or enact new ones, according to the report.
Traveling to the nearest states where abortion is legal – Hawaii or the West Coast of the United States – would be prohibitively expensive for many women.
A nonstop flight from Guam to Honolulu takes nearly eight hours. A single commercial airline provides the connection. A recent online search showed that the cheapest tickets cost $1,500 return at the end of May.
Williams said many Guam residents need time off work, a hotel room and a rental car to get to an abortion, which drives up costs.
Hawaii legalized abortion in 1970, three years before Roe. The state now allows abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb. After that, it is legal if a patient’s life or health is in danger.
Flying to a country in Asia that allows abortion would be quicker, but several reproductive rights advocates in Guam said they hadn’t heard of anyone doing that. For one, you would need a passport, which many don’t have, said Kiana Yabut of the Famalao’an Rights group.
Without Roe, Guam could revert to a 1990 abortion ban. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law unconstitutional in 1992, but it was never repealed.
James Canto, Guam’s deputy attorney general, agreed this month when questioned by a Guam senator that existing abortion laws in various states and territories would be “the law of the land” if Roe were struck down.
But Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, associate director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the 9th Circuit had permanently banned the 1990 law, meaning Guam’s attorney general would have to ask the court to local US district to lift an injunction to begin enforcing this.
The 32-year-old law made it a crime for a doctor to perform the procedure except to save a woman’s life or prevent serious danger to her health, as certified by two independent doctors, or to end to an ectopic pregnancy, which is a dangerous situation. abnormal pregnancy that develops outside the uterus.
It was a crime for a woman to have an abortion, or for anyone to ask or advise her to have one.
The 21-member unicameral legislature unanimously approved the ban after then-Archbishop Anthony Apuron threatened in a TV interview to excommunicate any Catholic senator who voted against it. All but one of the senators were Catholic, but most of the senators said they were unaware of the threat.
The Guam legislature has considered additional measures to restrict abortion. This month, he held hearings on a bill inspired by a new Texas law that bans abortion once heart activity is detected, usually about six weeks. The Texas law, which has resisted legal challenges so far, leaves enforcement to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutions.
Peter Srgo, a Guam attorney who drafted the measure, said its enactment would eliminate speculation about whether Guam would ban abortions if Roe were overturned.
“So take your pick. What do you want? Because for me, either way, I win. Either way, the people win. Either way, the pro-life movement will win a major victory no matter what.” it happens,” he said. .
The possibility that abortion will become less accessible on Guam has prompted some nonprofits to come together to increase support for pregnant women in need, said Mona McManus, executive director of the island’s Safe Haven Pregnancy Center.
Her organization, which opposes abortion, offers free pregnancy tests, prenatal and parenting classes, and information on adoption and abortion. He recently launched a “wraparound service group” with other nonprofits that can help with housing, foster care for teenage mothers, adoption and other services. .
Jayne Flores, director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, a Guam government agency, believes residents would still have access to medical abortions off the island if Roe is overthrown. But she wonders if the legislature could ban that as well.
“When do you start looking through people’s mail?” she says.
In the Atlantic, lawmakers in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico are considering legislation that would ban abortions beginning at 22 weeks, or when a doctor determines a fetus is viable, with the only exception if a woman’s life is in danger. This roughly matches most U.S. state laws, though more restrictive than Puerto Rico’s current statute, which sets no time limit.