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Group calls on senators to act on abortion bill

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - Saying that it's been long enough, The Esperansa Project called a press conference this afternoon, asking Guam's lawmakers to stop the shell game and take action on Bill 54.  In February 2009, Bill 54 (the Women's Reproductive Health Information Act), was introduced.  But a year and half later the legislation still hasn't gone to a vote.

And Epseransa, the local pro-life group, are calling out local lawmakers they say are trying to kill the bill.

"Why is Senator Aguon so interested in protecting abortion when he claims to be pro-life and have women's health at heart, when he's doing everything he can to prevent the passage of this bill?" questioned Margie DeBenedictus, with the Esperansa Project.  Bill 54 would require that women seeking an abortion provide informed consent and undergo a 24-hour wait period to "reflect" before they are allowed to have an abortion. 

In this case, informed consent includes not only an accurate description of the medical procedure and the risks associated, but also information on adoption, child support, and a description of the fetus complete with detailed picture or photograph.  DeBenedictus says that she was informed that the bill was re-referred to the Guam Legislature's Committee on Health, chaired by Senator Frank Aguon, Jr., because of constitutional issues and that the senator recently sent a letter to the Attorney General's Office asking for guidance. 

"We find this answer completely unacceptable," she continued.  "Attorneys general don't normally give opinions on pending legislation."

But bill co-sponsor Senator Tina Muna Barnes says she understands Senator Aguon's reservations and that she'd rather be safe than sorry before bringing the bill to the floor.  (According to the committee report on Bill 54 issued March 26, 2009, Senator Aguon along with Senator Barnes recommended the legislation's passage.)  "Federal guidelines usually supersede Guam's laws," the Democrat said.  "And we just want to make sure that we're not in violation of any of that, so I respect the decision that Senator Aguon is moving on and I'm not going to question that. That again is his prerogative as oversight chair - that he's literally dotted his Is and crossed his Ts."

In a press release issued this afternoon, Aguon said, "Considering the legal and social implications of the proposed measure it is imperative that an opinion of the AG's Office be available for lawmakers to review before we move forward", adding that various rulings on similar legislation had been brought up by both supporters and opponents of the bill.

At least 29 states have some form of "right to know" or "informed consent" law.  Aside from Senator Muna Barnes, co-authors of Bill 54 include senators Eddie Calvo and Frank Blas, Jr.

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