Archbishop: Disappointed over judge's telemedicine abortion decision

MASS: Archbishop Michael Byrnes celebrated Mass on April 25 at the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatña. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post 

Archdiocese of Agana Archbishop Michael Byrnes called a federal judge's recent decision on telemedicine abortion a setback for those who advocate for the rights of the unborn.

"Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s decision in the District Court of Guam on Friday, Sept. 3 was another blow to opponents of abortion. The judge’s decision opens the door to so-called “telemedicine” which would assist women and girls locally in procuring abortions guided remotely by doctors from afar. The judge’s ruling grants a preliminary injunction on local laws that had made it more difficult for women to seek abortions," according to Byrnes in a pastoral letter issued over the weekend.

"It won’t be the last setback for all in Guam who recognize the urgent need to stand up for our helpless brothers and sisters in the womb," Byrnes wrote.

Byrnes commended Guamanians "who fight for the lives of our unborn children, including members of the Guam Catholic Pro-Life Committee, the Esperansa Project, Knights of Columbus and those from other religious denominations."

"The Safe Haven organization also provides invaluable assistance to pregnant women and girls in Guam. As well, Ohalaˈ Adoptions offers a compassionate option through adoption while “bringing peace, hope, and stability to the women and children of Guam,” he wrote.

"We are naturally disappointed and upset about this latest legal effort that impedes the work to protect the unborn. However, especially for we baptized children of God, remember that our hope is forever in our Lord. As now Saint John Paul II, urged, 'Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.'”

The telemedicine issue

Tydingco-Gatewood's decision could lift a major hurdle for women on Guam who are contemplating undergoing abortion by taking a set of pills with the guidance of a doctor through telemedicine.

Hawaii-based doctors Shandhini Raidoo and Bliss Kaneshiro, who are licensed to practice on Guam, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued the government of Guam to challenge the "in-person" requirement for a woman to be informed and given 24 hours to think about her decision.

The doctors are not challenging the content of the information that's required. They are asking the court to clarify if the consultation with the doctor can be conducted legally via telemedicine, such as through video calls.

Tydingco-Gatewood stated in her decision that GovGuam officials "failed to offer any evidence that supports their position that in-person communication is superior to live, face-to-face video conference" when it comes to consulting with a doctor.

The last doctor who performed abortions on Guam left the island nearly three years ago, according to information provided by court documents in the case.

Tydingco-Gatewood's decision states GovGuam’s "argument is completely detached from the reality that there is no abortion provider in Guam since the last one retired in 2018."

(Daily Post Staff)


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