Saturday, April 13, 2024


By Tim Rohr

Aside from the probably hundreds of thousands of dollars Guam taxpayers have paid and are still paying to fund the litigation around “Belle’s Law” - the more than 30 year-old anti-abortion law that was negligently left in our Code after it was enjoined just four days after it sprang to life in 1990, there is the cost in dead babies. And it is not small.

Note: "Belle's Law" is the nickname for the legislation introduced by the late-Senator Elizabeth "Belle" Arriola.

According to Anita Arriola, the attorney representing the pro-abortion side in the eventual 1990 lawsuit, the number of abortions per year in Guam was thought to be between 600 to 1000. (Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 1990

Note: Anita Arriola is the daughter of Belle Arriola

And there is no reason to believe that those numbers declined over the next thirty years (or at least until 2008).

Note: In 2008, The Esperansa Project was formed with the aim of introducing and supporting legislation to regulate Guam's then mostly un-regulated abortion industry. The only laws on the books were one requiring abortions be performed by a qualified physician in an appropriate facility and a reporting law that was never enforced or even checked on.

While the blame for the deaths of an estimated 30,000 children can certainly be spread around, I contend that the person most responsible for this staggering loss of life is former-Archbishop Anthony Apuron.

The figure of Apuron looms large throughout the whole process, from threatening to excommunicate any of the 20 of 21 senators who were Catholic for not voting for the bill that became Belle’s Law, to his presence in the legislative hall during the vote:

“The law was approved March 9 by all 21 members of Guam’s one-house Legislature, 20 of whom are Catholic, while the island’s bishop sat in the chamber’s balcony.” (Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 1990)

"...the formidable presence of Archbishop Apuron…in the legislative hall when the vote was taken." (Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, Pg. 372)

"...Archbishop Anthony Apuron, who had considered excommunicating or censuring any of the 20 Catholic senators voting against the bill." (Orlando Sentinel, May 6, 1990)

Knowing Apuron (and his handlers) as I do after having gone head to head with him over several terrible years as Guam’s 50 year-long clergy sex abuse crisis (here and here) unfolded - with Apuron at the center of it, I can clearly see Apuron, robed and mitred, wielding his self-inflated authority to threaten, crush, and otherwise condemn anyone who dared flaunt his will. 

And it’s not hard to imagine the Catholic lawmakers thinking to themselves: “Screw it. It’s going to be found unconstitutional anyway. It’s not worth it. Let’s just vote for this to get Apuron off our backs and let the courts take care of it.” And that’s what happened.

What's amazing is that Apuron did not champion the legislation under the banner of Catholic Church teaching, in the name of God, or even the rights of the unborn. Instead, Apuron followed then-Governor Ada's lead to use the legislation as a vehicle to assert Guam's right to self-determination by openly challenging Roe v Wade, or more specifically, the authority of the U.S. government to impose Roe on Guam. Thus Belle's Law became more about anti-colonialism than about anti-abortion, and Apuron joined right in. 

In a speech to a national pro-life conference, Apuron...

"...boldly presented Guam’s pro-life stance not as an outcome of an ecumenical pro-life movement, but as the outcome of a 'Catholic people called Chamorros,' with a distinct , culture, language, and religious beliefs, who for centuries have been 'obscured, ignored, or trampled on.' In the final analysis, he asserted, 'our struggle to protect the sanctity of life is tantamount to the preservation of our cultural heritage.' The very existence of a matrilineal tradition in Guam, the archbishop argued, underscores the particular importance of motherhood as the source of female power. Implicit in this statement is the assumption that it should be the responsibility of all women in Guam, irrespective of identity or allegiance to assure the continuity of the Chamorro people and culture.  (Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, Pg. 374)

The same paragraph goes on to say: "This was a burden of representation that neither the U.S. judicial system nor some people in Guam could support." And of course, it (the judicial system) didn't. Belle's Law would have been found unconstitutional anyway, but at least it would have died on the sacrificial pyre of a Catholic bishop's unwavering grip on the fundamental Catholic teaching of every human being's inalienable, God-given, right to life. But no. For Apuron this was about "the preservation of our cultural heritage." 

Again, knowing Apuron as I do, he probably didn't even write this speech. Like we were to learn later as the Neocat and clergy sex abuse wars broke out, Apuron was a willing mouthpiece for anyone who made him feel important. But there was a cost to "feeling important." 

The Cost

The fact is that without Apuron's threats to excommunicate the 20 Catholic senators, many, knowing, or at least predicting, that the bill, if enacted into law, would be found unconstitutional and enjoined, may have in fact voted against it, or at least amended it to pass constitutional muster, and we wouldn't be fighting this fight 30 years later. 

As I outlined in my oral argument before the Supreme Court of Guam in July 2023, Belle's Law was crafted in the shadow of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Webster) which opened the door for some restrictions on abortion:

"At the same time there was a complex interaction over abortion among activists, interest groups, legislatures, governors, and courts being played out in several states. The was sparked by the July 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Webster v Reproductive Health Services, which opened the door for states to test the limits of how far they could in restricting access to abortion." (Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, Pg. 366)

However, as I have already alluded, under the threat of excommunication and "the formidable presence of Archbishop Apuron…in the legislative hall when the vote was taken," the lawmakers basically punted, and that punt is still flying...and costing.

The reason that punt has led to at least 30,000 deaths is because of the then-million dollar taxpayer funded price tag for the litigation following the passage of Belle's Law, making it so that no lawmaker wanted to get near the abortion issue for the next three decades. 

In 2010, when Bill 54-30 (informed consent) was being debated on the Floor of the Legislature, I distinctly remember the late-Senator Ben Pangelinan using the cost of litigating Belle's Law as a battering ram to kill 54-30. And, during the next several years, as The Esperansa Project pushed through more bills, the legal fiasco following Belle's Law was always brought up by the legislative pro-aborts to scare off support.

Meanwhile, most of the rest of the United States had capitalized on the door opened by Webster (1989) and then Casey (1992) to enact commonsense, mother-protecting legislation such as informed consent. However, because of Guam's reluctance to touch the issue, Guam, by 2008, and because it had next to no legislation regulating abortion, had sunk to the easiest place in the nation to procure an abortion, massacring approximately 1000 babies a year, and this, on an island that was 90% Catholic. 

Amazingly, as abortion reports later would show, two-thirds of those aborted children had mothers who identified their ethnicity as Chamorro which is ironic given Apuron's "bold" speech in 1990 about the "continuity of the Chamorro people and culture." 

Apuron did get one thing right in that speech though: his reference to the "importance of motherhood as the source of female power." Once liberated to do so, many Guam mothers exercised their "female power" by aborting up to 25% of their next generation. (Based on an average of 3000 births per year and the estimated 1000 abortions per year.)

The sad thing, if it can get any sadder, is that Apuron never had the authority or the grounds to excommunicate anybody. Only a politician who openly advocates for abortion (like the current governor) can be excommunicated. Not voting for an anti-abortion bill doesn't qualify. It is not the same as writing a bill to promote abortion. Those senators had nothing to fear except Apuron's shadow.

Of course this whole mess can be instantly resolved, even after thirty years, by a senator or senators who tout their pro-life credentials to introduce a bill removing Belle's Law and replacing it with a more accurate and less troubled one. 

Meanwhile, the current apostolic administrator has all the authority and evidence he needs to deny communion to openly pro-abortion politicians like "you-know-who." 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Tim for reminding us of these important facts, about our own history