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Heavy debate over legislation dealing with abortion

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Last Friday marked exactly one year since the Women's Reproductive Health Information Act of 2012 was signed into law - that however has yet to be implemented. And legislation aimed at finally moving the law forward was discussed on session floor yesterday but it didn't go without heavy debate and allegations.

Public Law 31-235 was signed into law last year and mandated no abortion be performed or induced without the voluntary and informed consent of a woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed except in the case of medical emergencies. "In passing that measure, we indicated that booklet and that checklist must go through the AAA process because it's either a rule or a regulation," explained Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr.

However over the summer, the attorney general had provided guidance to Public Health that this checklist instead does not constitute a rule or regulation and has since stopped the process of moving the law forward. Rodriguez's Bill 193 aims to change that, with the senator adding, "So what this bill does is fairly simple is just that now it removes this requirement that it goes through this process where the legal counsel of the department has said is not constituted as a rule or regulation."

Senator Frank Aguon, Jr., who had introduced similar legislation stood in support of Bill 193. "I think that when a year's has passed and that material has yet to be officially presented or yet to be distributed to the respective clinics that administer abortion on our island, then that's a year too long," he said.

And while Rodriguez said the bill was fairly simple, it appeared anything but as several lawmakers proffered their own amendments, many of which failed to go through including Speaker Judi Won Pat who wanted to protect the psychological and physical well-being of the woman. "That's not an easy decision for the women to make and that woman must receive complete and accurate information and it has to be information that is objective, it has to not be biased at all," she said.

Won Pat further proposed having the material be subject to final legislative approval. Senator Ben Pangelinan meanwhile said he disagreed with the AG's opinion. The appropriations chair added he didn't believe the printed materials and checklist are an impediment from moving the law forward instead he says it was an excuse or a red herring to get the printed material approved without giving the public the opportunity to comment. "I'm convinced now, that this is not to clear up, it's to hide it from the public, to hide what is to be approved so that only one set of individuals get to determine what is going to be in this printed materials," he said.

The law currently leaves the responsibility to the director of Public Health who had indicated to Rodriguez that he would work with the respective stakeholders. Rodriguez further stated that lawmakers set the framework of what the material should be already and leave it to the professionals to complete it. He further addressed accusations made by Senator Pangelinan saying there is no effort to hide any information as every member voted on the now public law last year.

"I don't know what has become of some of the people who I had a lot of respect for and people I at one point looked up to. I can't believe even with the legislature so simple as this, there would be these conspiracy theories being floated round there," he said. "I rise in disappointment because I had  hope for some people in this body and I'm losing all hope in them as well. Just as I'm losing their respect, I'm losing all hope for them, for myself and for this community."

Ten senators meanwhile voted to place Bill 193 in the Third Reading File with three excused and four others voting to not including Pangelinan, Won Pat and Senators Tina Muna Barnes and Michael San Nicolas. Another measure related to abortion Bill 195 meanwhile is currently on session agenda and waits to be discussed. 

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