Archbishop on abortion: 'We have cause to fear'

PROTEST: Anti-abortion demonstrators gathered last month at the governor's complex in Adelup to protest after Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's administration announced it will recruit a doctor who can perform abortions on Guam. Post file photo

In a message to the island’s Catholic faithful, Archbishop Michael Byrnes noted that the abuse of children by priests has played a role in the Catholic faithful’s views on abortion.

Byrnes wrote that, as an island of predominantly Catholic residents, some would expect that abortion on Guam “would be practically nonexistent.”

The number of abortions on Guam peaked in 2008, with 327 abortions performed; although, in the following years, the number of abortions hovered between 200 and 300. The most recent data show that in 2016 and 2017, there were 289 and 239, respectively, recorded abortions on Guam.

Byrnes said he has reflected on the reality that Guamanians have sought abortions.

“In brief, I suggest that over the past several decades that there has been the steady development of what the Bible calls ‘hardness of heart,’” he stated, noting references in Scripture where such a condition affected how people acted. "The social consequences of hardness of heart mostly affects the underprivileged, the wounded, the elderly, and the vulnerable. It often manifests itself in an increase of violence, a loss of civility, neglect of the poor, and among other things, a weakening of family ties.”

Byrnes further wrote: "In present times, it is described as a fundamental right. That is a monumental change of heart on the parts of our island and our nation. We have hardened our hearts even to the point of tolerating the notion that were an aborted baby were to survive delivery the doctors should make the child comfortable until they died. In the Judgment, we will be judged according to how we treat 'the least of my brethren.' We have cause to fear."

Byrnes said the “decades of sexual abuse of minors by certain of the Catholic clergy” had a role to play in people turning away from Catholic teachings.  

“Though public awareness of that surreptitious history is fairly recent, the hardness of heart manifested by certain of the priests and religious has undoubtedly contributed, along with the growing secularization of the Western world, as a kind of cancer that has weakened our faith in God,” he wrote. “When the shepherds betray the weakest of the flock, the faith of the flock grows small or even nonexistent."

In June, following an Associated Press story in which Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero discussed the lack of a clinic performing abortions on Guam and her intent to recruit a doctor to perform abortions, local Catholic faithful held a rally at Adelup. They were met by supporters of the governor's effort. 

No doctors performing abortions

Guam law currently allows abortions up to 26 weeks in cases of rape or incest, or developmental issues in the unborn.

There currently are no doctors on Guam who perform abortions. Dr. William Freeman, one of the last doctors to perform abortions on Guam, retired in 2018 and there hasn’t been a replacement for him. Local law allows doctors to refuse to provide abortion services.

The Leon Guerrero administration has reached out to national organizations but haven’t received word on whether any doctors who perform abortions are interested in bringing their practice to Guam.

Jayne Flores, director of the Bureau of Women's Affairs at the governor's office, has said there should be a doctor on island who can perform abortions, particularly in cases of rape or incest.

She was tasked with that effort to ensure women on Guam have a choice.

Flores said Tuesday that while the Bureau of Women's Affairs hopes a doctor will come to Guam, the bureau is focusing on the Department of Public Health and Social Services federal Title X Family Planning Program. Title X provides individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services.

“We want to focus on educating the community on getting birth control, condoms and having responsible sexual activities,” Flores said.