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Political or proactive?

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - The debate continues tonight on the lack of legislative action taken on a bill introduced 18 months ago to require informed consent and education before a woman makes the decision to have an abortion.  While the Esperansa Project has made allegations that there are attempts to kill the bill instead of allowing it to be heard on session floor, one lawmaker contends the recent push for the bill is purely political.  

"The reason a law like this is important is because there are for the past few decades countless of women who have said, 'If I knew what it really was I may have made a different choice,'" said Dr. Marjorie DeBenedictus, spokesperson for Esperansa.  The pro-life group wants Bill 54 heard on session floor soon.  DeBenidictus contends the lack of action on the part of lawmakers is very telling.

But Committee on Rules chair Senator Rory Respicio refutes statements that Bill 54 has been highjacked, telling KUAM News, "So the Esperansa Project needs to recognize that and needs to understand that we are not highjacking this for any reason other than we want that kind of clarity." The Democrat added, "So what's more clear to me is that The Esperansa Project is nothing more than a front to the Calvo-Tenorio campaign, and people need to recognize that."

But the organization says that's hardly the case.  Said Dr. DeBenedictus, "We've been bothering senator Respicio about this bill for the past nine months, which again was before the election season or anybody declared their candidacy and he's just throwing that up as a smoke screen this has nothing to do with politics."

A public hearing was held last March, during which time dozens of people - Archbishop Anthony Apuron included - testified in support of Bill 54.  Debenidictus says her group has been trying to find out why the bill hasn't made it to session floor for months.  "It was that day after receiving our letter that Senator [Frank] Aguon after months, I'm talking about over nine months of promising to do his legislative whatever, that he finally sent something to the Attorney General's Office requesting an opinion."

In fact, KUAM News has confirmed that Senator Aguon sent a request to the AG this past September 29.  Aguon, a lieutenant governor candidate, says the issue of constitutionality was raised during the public hearing last year and continued to be a concern even after the committee report was issued.  

Senator Respicio says those concerns were even raised when the matter was brought to the Committee on Rules' attention but he denies any politicking.  He said, "We never held a bill from going on the floor unless there's some particular concern. Concerns raised is that it may be unconstitutional are valid with respect to the 24-hour waiting period exposing a women to the actual procedure, having Public Health develop brochures to the consequences of an abortion. This whole litany of things that they have to go through is kind of seen as additional hurdles to preventing a women to do what is constitutional permissible for her to do."

DeBenedictus added, "There are absolutely no constitutional issues with this bill.  Senator Respicio in some of these e-mails made reference to a recent Supreme Court decision. There is no recent Supreme Court decision that has anything to do with this; this bill has passed constitutional muster in over 24 states and we modeled it on legislation that has passed and have been upheld in the courts."

Bill 54 was co-introduced by Senators Eddie Calvo, Tina Rose Muna Barnes and Frank Blas, Jr.  The AG's Office confirms the legislation is under review.

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