Court Blocks Medically Unnecessary Restriction on Telemedicine, Removing Barrier to Abortion Access in Guam

September 3, 2021 3:00 pm

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HAGÅTÑA, Guam — A federal court issued a preliminary injunction on Friday, temporarily blocking a provision of Guam law that created unnecessary obstacles to accessing medication abortion using telemedicine, following a lawsuit filed by two physicians represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Guam-based attorney Vanessa L. Williams.

The injunction from the U.S. District Court for the District of Guam means that patients can now receive government-mandated information prior to their abortion from their physician via telemedicine, without having to make a separate, medically unnecessary in-person visit.

“This ruling puts science over politics, blocking yet another medically unnecessary obstacle that was making it more difficult for people in Guam to access abortion care,” said Rachel Reeves, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “At such a critical moment for abortion access in this country, the court’s decision is an important step toward ensuring that all of us — no matter where we live — can exercise that right.”

This decision follows a partial settlement secured by the plaintiffs in early March which ensures that a 1978 law that requires abortions to be “performed” in a clinic or hospital cannot be used to restrict access to medication abortion. The settlement cleared the way for residents of Guam to access medication abortion through telemedicine rather than having to leave the island and fly nearly 4,000 miles each way to Hawai‘i — or further — just to receive care.

As with all abortion restrictions, the challenged laws disproportionately burdened people of color and people with low incomes: In Guam, these burdens fall most heavily on CHamoru people (the Indigenous people of the Mariana Islands).

“For people in Guam, just like across the United States, having safe, legal access to abortion means that we can make decisions about our lives, our families, and our futures,” said Vanessa L. Williams, an attorney in Guam and co-counsel in the case. “We stand on the shoulders of our foremothers in this fight — including CHamoru women who have fought for decades to safeguard abortion access in Guam. I am so proud we can continue that legacy today.”

“A person’s health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions throughout pregnancy and it is long past time these barriers were lifted,” said Dr. Shandhini Raidoo, a Guam-licensed physician and plaintiff in the case. “Thanks to this ruling, our patients in Guam will no longer be singled out through unnecessary restrictions on telemedicine that cause harm without providing any benefit to the health of patients.”

More than a decade of research and experience show that the medications used for a medication abortion can safely and effectively be prescribed through telemedicine. Using telemedicine for medication abortion can reduce barriers to abortion care, particularly in under-resourced areas, and for some patients allows them to obtain abortion care where they feel safest and have the most privacy.

“This court ruling is essential to the well-being of our communities,” said Maria Dolojan, co-founder and executive director of Guam reproductive justice initiative Famalao’an Rights. “When abortion can once again be accessed on our island, it will allow us to take control of our futures and make the best medical decisions for ourselves and our families. This win is a win for every person seeking reproductive health care in Guam.”

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