The two elected branches of the government of Guam are at war with themselves on whether unborn children should have the legal right to live.
On the one hand, the Guam Legislature has left on the books a 1990 law criminalizing abortion against which a federal court placed an injunction. Incoming Attorney General Douglas Moylan has vowed to get the injunction lifted now that Roe v. Wade is dead.
On the other hand, the legislature last week passed legislation that would empower citizens to sue anyone – except the pregnant mother – who assists in an abortion of a child whose heartbeat can be medically detected. The bill is called the Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022. The governor has signaled her veto.
And, who knows what the next legislature will do? The Thirty-seventh Guam Legislature takes office in two weeks.
Attorney Peter Sgro, Jr. authored the Guam Heartbeat Act, which senators passed by a vote of eight in favor to seven against, and laboriously worked to muster public pressure on senators toward passage. “In all the months I spent in drafting the Guam Heartbeat Act, there was never any discussion or intent to have any woman even remotely face the possibility of facing criminal charges if she made the decision to have an abortion,” Mr. Sgro said. He added, “My own personal convictions would never support a woman having an abortion face criminal prosecution. There was also never any discussion or intent to expose anyone that aided or abetted the performing of an abortion to face criminal charges. However, that is not the case under the late Senator Elizabeth Arriola’s law.“
“First of all, the bill is very dangerous for our community,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said of the heartbeat act. “If we’re talking about ‘pro-life,’ it’s totally against life, I believe, in the way of punishing people for having an abortion, which I think it a very personal decision to be made. I don’t think it’s good for our community. We are a very loving and giving community, and I think this legislation is so foreign to our community. I will veto it. Of course I’ll review it, but my inclination is to veto it.”
Tim Rohr, who has advocated for the lives of unborn children for decades, says that while the heartbeat act would have helped to save the lives of unborn children prior to the reversal of Roe by the recent U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision, those who profess to be ‘pro-life’ should now advocate for laws that protect children from conception now that legislatures can legally make those decisions.
Following the heartbeat act’s narrow passage in the Guam Legislature Friday, Mr. Rohr wrote in an article in the popular online journal JungleWatch:
“The Heartbeat bill was conceived, authored, and introduced at a time no one could have imagined Roe being overturned; so legislation, like the Heartbeat Bill, was the best we could constitutionally hope for.
“And, even though Roe was overturned by Dobbs in June 2022, opening the door for a complete ban on abortion, by then the Heartbeat Bill had already been introduced and deposited into the legislative machinery.
“Meanwhile, opponents have nothing to worry about. Governor LLG is eager to veto it and there are not ten votes to override her veto. So everyone wins in the end. The supporters get to claim a victory and the opponents get to shut it down. In fact, the probability of this scenario was probably always known by the smarter heads in the Legislature which may be why they just let it go through.”
The Archdiocese of Agana issued a message of support for both the heartbeat act’s passage, and for the lifting of the injunction on the Arriola law. In a message from the archdiocese’s vicar general, Fr. Romeo Convocar:
“First and foremost, our Church affirms that life begins from the moment of conception and must be respected and protected from conception to natural death…
“Last April, Archbishop Michael Byrnes first announced that our archdiocese supported Bill 291-36, known as The Guam Heartbeat Act of 2022. At that time, the historic lifting of Roe vs. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet taken place. Absent the landmark ruling, it was appropriate then that our archdiocese supported legislation that banned abortion on Guam in instances when a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child is detected. The Church’s support of Bill 291-36 is not meant to imply that any abortion other than when a fetal heartbeat is detectable is acceptable. It is not. It is our response to an immediate opportunity to limit the killing of innocent children in the womb.”
Fr. Convocar, in his message, thanked the senators and “citizens involved in the sponsorship, and/or research and creation of this anti-abortion legislation. They spent much time and sacrifice doing so.” Indeed, Mr. Sgro, and those who joined him in their crusade to pass the heartbeat act, carried a heavy cross in so doing.
But even the archdiocese recognizes the political dynamics afoot. The heartbeat act passed with only eight votes. And as Mr. Rohr has pointed out, likely will be vetoed by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, and likely will not have the 10 votes necessary to override her veto.
And the person standing in the pro-choice governor’s way is formidable: Douglas Moylan.
“With Roe vs. Wade being lifted and the power to prohibit or allow abortion placed squarely on individual states and jurisdictions, the Church’s greater focus and support is now on Public Law 20-134 which was passed in 1990 with unanimous backing of all 21 senators,” Fr. Convocar wrote in his message. “There is much hope and prayer that new, incoming Attorney General Douglas Moylan will work expeditiously to remove the injunction.”
If that happens, the governor will find herself in a dilemma. The ball will be in her court. She will need to muster eight votes in the new legislature to reverse what 21 senators in 1990 did.
Sen. Telena Nelson, the main sponsor of the heartbeat act, will not be returning to the legislature in January.
Timothy J Rohr
12/21/2022 at 10:36 AM