Wednesday, December 14, 2022


AG-Elect Douglas Moylan

Post-Dobbs, much is being made of "Belle's Law," a 1990 law introduced by the late Senator Elizabeth Arriola banning abortion and a law that still remains in the Guam code, but enjoined pursuant to Roe v Wade

In the wake of Dobbs (overturning Roe) controversy over Belle's Law was recently heightened after the incumbent Attorney General, Leevin Camacho - who opined that the injunction should remain, was defeated by incoming Attorney General, Doug Moylan, who has stated he will lift the injunction making Belle's Law outlawing abortion the law of Guam. 

For pro-lifers, the late senator is a saint, and she in fact may be. However,  as history and government abortion reports show, Belle's Law and its aftermath inadvertently opened the door to unopposed and unregulated abortion in Guam for the next 28 years.

The short version is this. 

Belle's Law provoked a constitutional challenge which GovGuam never had a chance of winning and cost Guam taxpayers millions of dollars. The legal mess and costs created a chilling effect on any future efforts to legislatively address abortion in Guam for nearly the next three decades. 

In fact, when The Esperansa Project began working to introduce abortion-regulating legislation in 2008, the cost to the taxpayers in the legal aftermath of Belle's Law was a constant battering ram used by the pro-abortion senators. *

* The late Senator Ben Pangelinan specifically used this argument to initially defeat the first introduction of informed consent for abortion in 2010.

Now here's the longer version. 

While Belle's Law sought to ban abortion in Guam, it also became a platform for then-Governor Joseph Ada to militate for Chamorro self-determination:

"Once the governor resolved to defend Guam’s ban on abortion against a common foe of Chamorro self-determination, namely, the U.S. Constitution, then the politics of abortion and the common wealth quest became irrevocably entangled."  - Vivian Loyola Dames in A Historical Anthology edited by Shirley Hune, Gail M. Nomura, Pg. 366

Then-Archbishop Apuron supported Ada's platform:

"If you do not know anything about Chamorros and about our struggles, you will miss the point about our decision to protect life…We are proposing a simple idea. We choose to exercise self-determination in the moral imperative even as we pursue self-determination in the political arena." - Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, Ibid, Pg. 365.

The 9th Circuit disagreed:

Guam contends that the substantive due process guarantee enforced in Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion cases does not apply to Guam because nothing in Guam's Organic Act, codified at 48 U.S.C. § 1421-1424b (1988), so provides...We can scarcely imagine, however, any clearer indication of intent than the language of the Mink Amendment: the relevant constitutional amendments "have the same force and effect" in Guam as in a state of the United States. There is no need, therefore, to go further...Accordingly, we hold that Roe v. Wade applies to Guam as it applies to the states. - Guam Society of Obstetricians & Gynecologists v. Ada, 962 F.2d 1366, 1370 (9th Cir. 1992)

There is certainly nothing wrong with pursuing either a ban on abortion or self-determination, but GovGuam's push for both in a single context convoluted the issues and both went down in flames. In fact, GovGuam did not directly challenge Roe under the banner of a right to life for an unborn child - which was the intent of Belle's Law, but on grounds that Roe did not apply to Guam in what became more of an effort to establish Guam's sovereignty than anything to do with protecting unborn life. 

Given the legislative silence for the next 28 years, it could be assumed that there never was the political will to fight abortion in the first place because while the rest of the country went on to enact multiple laws regulating abortion (e.g. informed consent, born alive, partial-birth abortion), Guam did nothing, and the Tamuning abortuaries knocked off Guam babies at the rate of two a day for the next thirty years. 

Perhaps the reason for the lack of political will can be found in this report:

"The day the legislature unanimously passed the law 21-0, the Archbishop was sitting in the balcony overlooking the senate floor. At the time, a local reporter quoted him as saying he would excommunicate anyone who voted against the ban. There was little debate on the floor. The democratic legislators had met in caucus, added amendments, and agreed there would be no debate on the floor." - On the Issues, Guam Territory in Turmoil, by Amy Goodman, 1990.

Given the times, i.e. when the local Catholic Church was still a formidable force in all aspects of Guam life, and the newly appointed (1986) Archbishop Apuron was still riding on the legacy of reverential awe left by his deceased predecessor, +Archbishop Flores, no one dared stand up to Apuron let alone risk excommunication. 

So the senators, including those who opposed the bill, calculated the political risk, avoided debate, voted for the bill, let it fail under its own unconstitutional weight, and moved on with their political careers under cover of "we tried." 

It's hard to say what would have happened had Apuron, who was surely present with his kowtowing retinue and in his usual episcopal regalia, had not been present or at least had not reportedly threatened excommunication. * There may have at least been a debate. But there was no debate. In short, the lawmakers ran for cover. 

*Apuron had no authority to excommunicate anyone who did not vote for the bill. He may have had authority to excommunicate a lawmaker who promoted efforts to legalize or further facilitate abortion access - as the current governor is now doing. But at the time, abortion was already legal pursuant to Roe and any lawmaker who did not support a bill that had no hope of surviving a constitutional challenge could have never been excommunicated. Too bad no senator stood up to Apuron back then. We might have gotten to the bottom of "other things" earlier. 

Elizabeth Arriola's bill was right and good in that it sought to protect unborn life. However, as the record shows, it was clearly co-opted by other interests: 1) the then-governor to flex his self-determination muscles;  and 2) the then-archbishop to flaunt his new episcopal power. 

However, the real culprits are the lawmakers who ran for cover. To debate legislation on the floor of the legislature and in full view of the public is exactly why they are elected and what they get paid to do. Instead, they ran to the backroom, made a deal, and let others take the fall.

Had there been a healthy debate, the bill may have been amended to avoid a constitutional challenge, and while it was not constitutionally possible to ban abortion, there were still many ways abortion in Guam - as other states have shown - could have been legally hedged. But Guam did nothing. And the children died.

Thanks to Dobbs, we now have the constitutional right and power to ban abortion from conception, if that's what pro-life supporters really want to do. The Heartbeat Bill, while well intended, and the best we could do prior to Dobbs, does not ban abortion from conception but only after a heartbeat is detected and even then it doesn't really ban abortion at all. It simply permits "any person" to sue the provider. 

In such a scenario, one can expect full-throated countersuits - especially by the physicians who would likely have the resources - and massive legal haggling tied up in the courts for years - with of course the lawyers happily walking away with their retainers and billable hours, win or lose. 

The good news is that more than thirty years later, Belle's Law, by some sort of miraculous legislative oversight - perhaps because no one in their wildest dreams could ever imagine Roe being overturned - is still on our books and we now have an Attorney General-Elect who has promised to lift the injunction. 

As Ray Gibson said on his show yesterday, we don't have a Plan B or C in the event of the failure of the Heartbeat Bill. We have a Plan D: "D" for Doug (Moylan), the Attorney General-elect, whose lifting of the injunction will simply remove the legislation from the courts and place it back in the hands of the people and their elected lawmakers if they wish to do something about it. 

In the end, the 1990 Legislature and those who co-opted Belle's Bill did not count the cost of their actions - other than what it might cost them politically. And one wonders if certain backers of the Heartbeat Bill are not wandering into the same territory. 

Coincidentally, today at Mass, the Gospel included a warning directly from Jesus about the stupidity of starting something with good intentions without a plan to finish:

Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost or see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.'

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