The party affiliation of Gov. Joseph Ada of Guam was incorrectly listed in an article Saturday. He is a Republican. (Published 3/27/90)
The daughter of the state senator who sponsored the bill has gone into court to overturn her mother's handiwork. The governor who signed it is surprised that the rest of the United States got caught by surprise. And the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney who was arrested because of the law said she's never experienced anything like the reaction it set off.
What's causing all the uproar is legislation approved unanimously by Guam's unicameral legislature that outlaws all abortion except when the life of the woman is threatened and makes it a crime to advocate abortion. It is the most restrictive bill approved in any U.S. state or territory, even tougher than the measure approved Thursday by the Idaho legislature.
Last Monday, Gov. Joseph Ada (D) signed the bill into law. Within hours, Janet Benshoof, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project, gave a speech opposing the law in which she said women in Guam could obtain abortions in Hawaii and gave out the phone number of a Planned Parenthood Clinic there. Shortly after that, Benshoof was ordered arrested by Guam's attorney general, who earlier had testified that the bill was unconstitutional.
Benshoof was charged on a misdemeanor of solicitation to commit abortion. And since then the island, an unincorporated U.S. territory with a population of 126,000 located 1,300 miles east of the Philippines in the western Pacific Ocean, has been in an uproar.
"There's been an explosion out here on Guam," said Anita Arriola, the 32-year-old Georgetown University Law School graduate who is representing Benshoof and whose mother sponsored the abortion bill.
"When the governor signed it, people just exploded," Arriola said in a telephone interview. "I don't think he realized the political implications of his action -- it's the most restrictive legislation since Roe v. Wade," the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion.
Arriola and the ACLU filed suit against the law yesterday. Hours later visiting federal District Judge Alex Munson, who flew in from the Northern Marianas Islands to hear the case, issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement. He scheduled a hearing on a preliminary injunction for Monday morning.
In the meantime, confusion reigns, according to abortion-rights advocates. Women seeking abortions have called lawyers asking what to do. Benshoof said opponents of the bill had been told that many doctors, fearful of violating the law, were refusing to give women IUDs, that some had stopped performing amniocentesis and that a medical librarian had called to ask whether she should dispose of books or manuals that describe abortion. She said one woman on the island who is pregnant with what is believed to be a deformed fetus is distraught over what to do.
These accounts could not be independently confirmed yesterday.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Benshoof, who flew to Guam late last week after the ACLU received reports about the bill. "I've been a lawyer for 18 years and I thought there was nothing that would shock and surprise me. I can see a political awakening. Changes are occurring by the minute."
Opponents of the law, who fear that it could be used as a test case to challenge Roe v. Wade, have scheduled a "Black Monday" rally next week to protest, Benshoof said.
The drama is heightened by the conflict between Arriola and her mother, state Sen. Elizabeth Arriola (D).
"Obviously, it's difficult for the two of us," the younger Arriola said. "She has her opinion and feels very strongly about it, and so do I."
Sen. Arriola said she and her daughter have not been able to talk to each other since the bill was signed last Monday.
"I love my daughter very much, and I hope she still loves me," she said. "I think I would be lying if I said it doesn't hurt. It does. But I am getting great strength from the people of Guam. That is something that lifts me up every single day."
Sen. Arriola said she has no doubt that the legislation reflects the majority of Guamanians, 90 percent of whom are Catholic. Abortion-rights advocates said pressure from the Roman Catholic Church had brought about the unanimous vote in the legislature.
Efforts to reach church officials yesterday were unsuccessful.
Sen. Arriola said she would be happy to see her bill become a legal test case, saying, "What's there to prevent it from going all the way" to the Supreme Court?
But an adviser to the governor hedged when asked whether the Guam government would appeal if the lower court rules that the measure is unconstitutional, as many experts say it is.
"I'm not going to presume the governor's action," said Mark Forbes, Ada's deputy chief of staff.
Unlike the Idaho law, which was specifically drafted to create a test case for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, the focus of the more extreme Guam measure has always been "very local," Forbes said. "No one's doing this with the intention of trying to affect national policy," he added.
"No, no, no," he said when asked whether the governor was surprised by the uproar over the bill. "What's taken us by surprise is how much we took everyone else by surprise. People didn't even know Guam existed."
Staff reseacher Bruce Brown contributed to this report.