For many years, the Being pregnant Management Clinic, tucked inside a squat, beige constructing across the nook from a bowling alley, dealt with many of the abortions on Guam, a tiny U.S. territory 1,600 miles south of Japan.
However the physician who ran it retired seven years in the past, and the clinic now seems deserted. An outdated medical examination desk stands close to an arrogance with a dislodged faucet, and a letter from Dr. Edmund A. Griley is taped to the entrance door: “My final day of seeing sufferers is November 18, 2016,” he wrote. “I like to recommend that you simply start in search of a brand new doctor as quickly as attainable.”
Dr. Griley has since died, and his abandoned clinic is a dusty snapshot of Guam’s previous — and a few say, its future.
Although abortion is legal in Guam up to 13 weeks of pregnancy, and later in certain cases, the final physician who carried out abortions left Guam in 2018. The closest abortion clinic on American soil is in Hawaii, an eight-hour flight away. And a pending court docket case may quickly lower off entry to abortion tablets, the final means for most girls on Guam to get authorized abortions.
As anti-abortion activists across the nation capitalize on momentum from the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Guam, a speck of land within the Pacific, stands out.
Forces on each side of the abortion debate say that the island of 154,000 individuals is on monitor to turn into the purest instance of what life can be like below a near-total ban. More than a dozen states have banned most abortions, forcing girls there who search to terminate pregnancies to journey elsewhere, typically at nice value and danger to their well being. However none is as remoted as Guam.
“Guam is a litmus check,” mentioned the territory’s lawyer normal, Douglas Moylan, a Republican who opposes abortion. “If anti-abortion forces have been to succeed anyplace in the USA, I’d say Guam can be considered one of them.”
There are two docs who’re licensed in Guam and keen to offer abortions, and each are based mostly in Hawaii, the place they’ll see sufferers by means of video calls and prescribe abortion tablets. That might change if the Ninth Circuit Courtroom of Appeals reinstates a territorial regulation that may require girls to see a health care provider in particular person as a way to acquire tablets.
A streak of anti-abortion sentiment runs by means of Guam, and there are different makes an attempt to additional prohibit the process. Mr. Moylan, the lawyer normal, is preventing in federal court to attempt to revive a 1990 regulation that banned almost all abortions however was blocked by a federal decide. Within the meantime, the legislature handed a invoice final yr that may prohibit most abortions after six weeks of being pregnant. It was vetoed by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, a Democrat, a nurse and the island’s first feminine governor.
She recalled that as a scholar in California earlier than the Roe v. Wade determination, she cared for girls who have been “hemorrhaging as a result of both they self-aborted or they went to underground abortion clinics they usually didn’t do it proper.”
As the pinnacle of the Guam Nurses Affiliation, Ms. Leon Guerrero testified in opposition to the 1990 ban, which might have made it against the law to carry out, endure or search an abortion, besides in some medical emergencies, or to encourage girls to have abortions. A federal court docket dominated that the regulation was unconstitutional and blocked the territorial authorities from imposing it, but it surely stays on the books.
“The whole lot that’s going round impacts Guam, and our girls right here, as a result of we’re far more remoted when it comes to entry to well being care,” the governor mentioned.
The place America’s Day Begins
Guam is thus far to the west of the continental United States that its clocks are 15 hours forward of Japanese Normal Time, in the identical time zone as Vladivostok, Russia, and the east coast of Australia. The island promotes itself as “the place America’s day begins.”
However although they’re Americans, residents of Guam, who principally determine ethnically both as Chamorro, the Indigenous individuals of the Mariana Islands, or as Filipino, can not vote for president or ship voting representatives to Congress.
About one-third of the island is managed by the Department of Defense, whose footprint is expanding. Although abortions are usually not accessible on the island’s navy bases besides in emergencies, the Pentagon will pay for abortion-related travel for troops serving in locations the place the process is illegitimate.
Abortion has lengthy been a taboo subject in Pacific island communities; about 80 p.c of Guam’s inhabitants are Catholic, reflecting the island’s Spanish colonial previous.
Dr. William Freeman, the final physician who carried out abortions on Guam, left the island in 2018. Dr. Freeman, who’s now 78 and residing in Manila, mentioned that when he first arrived on Guam 39 years in the past, the seven docs who carried out abortions usually acquired “cellphone calls threatening to kill us or blow us up.”
When he retired, a associate who opposed abortion declined to proceed that a part of their observe. Dr. Freeman recommended having docs go to Guam for six-week stints to offer the process, however “no group was keen to make their clinic accessible,” he mentioned.
‘Hope Is Rising’
The Guam regulation that requires girls in search of an abortion to obtain government-mandated info from a health care provider — and solely in particular person — has been blocked by a court docket order whereas a authorized problem proceeds. The 2 Hawaii-based docs argue in their lawsuit that if the injunction is lifted, it will turn into virtually not possible for them to help girls on Guam by means of telemedicine.
That might be a victory, so far as the island’s Catholic officers are involved. In an interview on the chancery of the Archdiocese of Agana, where Pope John Paul II stayed overnight in 1981, Father Romeo Convocar, the apostolic administrator, mentioned that abortion tablets obtained by telemedicine is now considered one of his greatest considerations.
Final summer season, anticipating that the Supreme Courtroom would quickly reverse the Roe v. Wade determination, the archdiocese distributed a pastoral letter to be learn aloud in its two dozen church buildings: “Hope is rising throughout our nation that the scourge of abortion will likely be considerably curtailed.”
Catholic officers pushed for the territory to undertake a six-week ban. They resumed conducting a ceremony for the burial of unclaimed fetuses from miscarriages or abortions. They applauded Mr. Moylan’s authorized endeavors to reinstate the 1990 abortion ban.
Sharon O’Mallan, chairperson of the Guam Catholic Pro-Life Committee, known as the Dobbs determination overturning Roe v. Wade “nice — now it turns it over to us, and we now determine what we wish as our legal guidelines.”
In late April, she and Agnes White, a nurse, pointed to a billboard that that they had helped to create: “Therapeutic the ache of abortion — one weekend at a time.”
The aim, they mentioned, was to recruit girls who had abortions to attend a confidential counseling retreat sponsored by a world religious group that opposes abortion.
‘I Would Gladly Go to Jail’
Advocates of abortion rights worry what’s going to occur on Guam — which has high rates of sexual assault and maternal mortality — if entry to abortion tablets is successfully blocked. The lawsuit filed by the Hawaii docs, as an example, argues that girls on Guam would face heightened medical dangers, in addition to daunting monetary and logistical burdens. (In line with census data, the median annual family revenue, excluding navy households, was $58,000 in 2019, or about 20 p.c under the nationwide common.)
Famalao’an Rights, a reproductive rights nonprofit based in 2019,stepped up its organizing in 2022 when the proposed six-week ban was gaining traction. A legislative committee’s 2,200-page report on the invoice crackled with anguished emails and handwritten letters from the general public, principally opposing the ban.
Then got here the Dobbs determination and its aftermath. “It simply felt like we have been on the prime of the hill, so near the end line, after which the end line moved,” mentioned Kiana Pleasure Yabut, a frontrunner within the group.
The Dobbs determination was demoralizing for the activists, who’re bracing for extra anti-abortion payments and making ready to assist girls acquire abortions, even when it means breaking the regulation.
“I’d gladly go to jail,” Ms. Yabut mentioned.
Girls on Guam mentioned they’ve already been coping with the issue and stigma of abortion for years.
Blissful Tingson was working as a resort housekeeper in 2015, when she turned pregnant. She informed solely two individuals: her finest good friend, Rhea Patino, and her boyfriend on the time.
“Not a single smile on his face,” mentioned Ms. Tingson, who was comforted by Ms. Patino and one other good friend when she turned emotional throughout an interview at her sister’s home. “He was just about saying, ‘It’s not the suitable time for us to have it, we’re not financially secure,’ ” Ms. Tingson mentioned.
Ms. Patino drove Ms. Tingson to the Being pregnant Management Clinic, which has since closed, to obtain the process, which value $500 in 2015. “Once I lastly acquired it achieved, I felt form of damaged,” Ms. Tingson mentioned.
She by no means informed her dad and mom, who at the moment are lifeless, she mentioned. She nonetheless hasn’t informed her older brother.
Requested if any of her buddies had additionally undergone an abortion, Ms. Patino interrupted: “Me.”
When Ms. Patino, a waitress, turned pregnant within the fall of 2020, she and her boyfriend on the time agreed that they might not afford to lift a toddler.
“I felt helpless,” she mentioned. “Strive speaking to a health care provider, they usually’re like, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t assist that.’ ”
Ms. Patino, who by then was seven weeks pregnant, determined that probably the most dependable choice was to fly to Florida. Deliberate Parenthood unexpectedly waived its $500 price for her.
“They mentioned the truth that you got here from Guam, and needed to fly out right here — it’s so unhappy, as a result of you haven’t any clinic on the market,” Ms. Pitino, now 32, recalled. “That’s so harmful. How can they do this to you guys?”