Guam’s in-person requirement for abortions re-instated by 9th Circuit appeals court

By Dave Andrusko

Just a few minutes ago, I ran across a story from Reuters that was headlined “US appeals court reinstates Guam in-person abortion counseling law.”

Before the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was “a law requiring that women in Guam meet with doctors in person before obtaining abortions,” according to Reuters’ Nate Raymond.

The New York Times’s David W. Chen reported

A federal appeals court ruled late Tuesday that women on the American territory of Guam who are seeking medication abortion must first have an in-person consultation with a doctor, which is likely to make access to the procedure on the remote island even more difficult.

The lower-court ruling “cleared the way for the doctors, Shandhini Raidoo and Bliss Kaneshiro, to provide care via telemedicine from nearly 4,000 miles (6,437 km) away in Hawaii, where abortion is legal, and prescribe abortion pills remotely,” Reuters’ reported.

But, according to Raymond,

U.S. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lee, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump, said that following last year’s Supreme Court ruling, “the people’s representatives–not judges–decide whether to allow, ban, or regulate abortions.”

“Guam can enact laws that it believes are best for its people, even if some people might strenuously oppose such laws or think them unwise,” Lee wrote for a three-judge panel.

Lee said the COVID-19 pandemic also showed that a telephonic or video meeting could be a “poor substitute” for an in-person one. Doctors or their qualified agents must during the meetings provide information on risks and adoption options.

Guam’s stringent pro-life law, passed in 1990, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court and the territorial government was blocked from enforcing it.

Chen continued

With the 1990 law still blocked, Guam’s Legislature has since passed additional restrictions. One such measure was the in-person consultation law, which was challenged in January 2021 by a local lawyer, Vanessa L. Williams, in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the two doctors based in Hawaii. That law was then blocked by a federal judge, allowing the doctors to send abortion pills.

However, with the Supreme Court handing down its Dobbs decision in June 2022, “the Guam attorney general’s office said the injunction should be lifted,” Chen reported. “Oral arguments were heard in February in Honolulu before a three-judge panel.” The appeals court unanimously ruled to reinstate the law.

The Appeal Court cited the 2022 Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade. “Guam has legitimate interests in requiring an in-person consultation,” the judges said. “The consultation can underscore the medical and moral gravity of an abortion and encourage a robust exchange of information.”