In heavily Catholic Guam, press struggles to find Catholics to quote on abortion issues

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Although the U.S. Supreme Court has shown no signs of overturning Roe v. Wade, you’d think — from all the press coverage that’s out there — it’s going to happen tomorrow.

One place where these debates have gone almost unnoticed is the U.S. territory of Guam, the South Pacific home to a U.S. naval base where women wanting abortions have a 7-hour flight (to Hawaii) ahead of them. That makes any difficulties faced by women in the lower 48 pale in comparison.

The few news stories done about life on this island mention that it is “heavily Catholic;” which translates to 80 percent of the island’s 165,000 residents.

Press coverage has been pretty light. In all the stories I’ve seen, only one Catholic woman is quoted. Surely with more than 100,000 Catholics on the island, there must be more than one person willing to speak to the press. The photo atop this article shows Catholics in Guam demonstrating against abortion in January.

Here’s another question to think about: What is the religious identity of Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero?

We’ll start with what the Associated Press has written:

(HONOLULU) — Lourdes Leon Guerrero vigorously defended abortion rights as she campaigned to become the first female governor of Guam. She won, but now no doctors are willing to perform the procedure she fought so hard to defend. The last abortion provider in the heavily Catholic U.S. territory retired in May 2018. That’s forcing women seeking to end their pregnancies to fly thousands of miles from the remote Pacific island — a costly and sometimes prohibitive step.

“I truly believe that women should have control of their bodies,” Gov. Guerrero, a former nurse, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m very sad and very nervous about what’s happening across the nation.”…

A Catholic anti-abortion group protested the recruitment idea at the governor’s office on Friday. Patricia Perry, co-chair of the group, sent invitations encouraging people to attend a prayer rally.

“If the governor is not convinced, we’ll do other measures to further our cause,” Perry said. “We will not stop until all abortion is outlawed and all anti-life laws will be abolished.”…

The archdiocese on the heavily Catholic island said in a statement it was appealing to the governor to change her position.

Meanwhile, are there any other religious groups on Guam — liberal or conservative — that may have an opinion on these issues?

Apparently not. None of the media I checked bothered to talk with those folks.

Let’s keep reading. From CNN:

(CNN) As states move to restrict abortion and access to it, women in the US territory of Guam already face a greater burden than crossing state lines for the procedure.

They must fly a long way, with Hawaii -- more than seven hours away by plane -- the closest US destination where they can get the Constitutionally protected medical service.

Guam allows abortion in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy or up to 26 weeks in a case of rape or incest, a grave fetal anomaly, or to protect the woman's life, said Jayne Flores, director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs.

This “constitutionally protected” phrase is loaded language and the writer should know better. There is no right to abortion in the Constitution per se but it is allowed when categorized under the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy.

Whether the U.S. Supreme Court overreached itself when applying “privacy” to abortion is a separate argument, and one that after about a half a century shows no sign of ending. However, my point is that the the reporter’s simplistic conclusions that a pregnant woman’s constitutional rights in Guam are being violated are simply wrong.

The article did add there is plenty of available — and sometimes free — birth control in Guam.

The Pacific Daily News, which is based in Guam, provided more info.

Between 2007 and 2017, an average of 246 abortions a year were reported to the Department of Public Health and Social Services. Since the last doctor who provided abortions on island retired in June 2018, zero abortions have been reported to the government. …

News of Adelup’s plan to recruit a doctor drew swift criticism from many residents. The Catholic Pro-Life Committee quickly organized a prayer rally protesting the plan. They agreed to rally at Adelup to appeal to Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio.

The article then found a 20-year-old Guam native, off the street, it appears, to quote in favor of an abortion clinic. The 20-year-old Kimmi Yee is simply identified as someone who was “born and raised on Guam.”

“When I think about how Guam doesn’t have a doctor who can perform safe abortions, it breaks my heart and frightens me of the thought that if I ever got pregnant with an unwanted child, nothing can be done about it,” Yee said.

Yee also took to Twitter and was critical of pro-life comments she’d seen online. She wrote about the lack of foster homes available to some 200 foster children on island.

Recently, legislation was introduced with the aim of helping improve foster care. The bill states that Child Protective Services indicated that as of May 2019, there were 270 children in foster placement and only 37 licensed foster families.

"If you don’t do anything to help these kids, you’re not pro-life. You’re just pro-birth. I’m not saying that you should abort these children to avoid the system but if we’re not going to have an abortion clinic here on Guam, something needs to be fixed,” she said.

That’s a constructive issue to bring up.

I’m left wondering about the naval base there in Guam. What do women on duty there do about abortions, should they want them?

The Catholic News Agency has been trying to cover this matter from afar, but mainly from AP dispatches. Guam’s Catholics have been in the news for other reasons, chiefly because of its archdiocese going bankrupt after 180 sexual abuse claims. It is selling its chancery and liquidating property to pay off some of the $115 million in lawsuits.

Not only that, but the former archbishop was just kicked out this spring for multiple sexual abuse charges. So it’s obvious that there’s hardly anyone at the office (although a new archbishop has been chosen) who is willing to take phone calls about abortion opposition.

Here are a few things that reporters can ask about: Is the governor herself Catholic? If so, how does she balance her church’s beliefs with her statements about hiring an abortionist to move to the island? What kind of hardship cases are out there? In past years, how many abortions were for failed birth control reasons and how many for rape/incest? And are there other medical procedures likewise not available in Guam?

Clearly more reporting needs to be done. In this case, I’d like one of the better-funded West Coast MSM outlets to consider flying a reporter to Guam. Here you’ve got a pro-life populace and a pro-choice female governor. Where is the Los Angeles Times when we need it?

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