22. Chamorro Women, Self-Determination, and the Politics of Abortion in Guam
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22 Chamorro Women, Self-Determination, and the Politics of Abortion in Guam Vivian Loyola Dames I am taking a stand as a woman, as a Chamorro and as an American. —Jacqueline Quitugua-Bettis1 A classic point of departure between many Western feminists and most Chamorro women relates to fundamental differences in their attitudes about motherhood. Feminists generally view the child-bearing role as the source of female subordination. In contrast, the centrality of mothers in Chamorro culture and the power and authority linked with the maternal role make it difficult for Chamorro women . . . to view motherhood as a source of oppression. Rather, it has been a traditional source of power and prestige for them. —Laura Marie Torres Souder2 If you do not know anything about Chamorros and about our struggles, you will miss the point about our decision to protect life. . . . We are proposing a simple idea. We choose to exercise self-determination in the moral imperative even as we pursue self-determination in the political arena. —Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron3 365 In 1990, Guam became embroiled in one of the most divisive social policy debates in its forty-year history as a U.S. territory when a Chamorro4 woman senator introduced a bill virtually banning abortion.5 This legislation was passed unanimously by a twentyone -member legislature with seven women senators.6 The local activism this controversial bill catalyzed, its enactment, and the immediate challenge to its constitutionality catapulted Guam into the U.S. national media as a frontrunner in the race to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a woman’s decision to have an abortion as a constitutionally protected right.7 At the time there was a complex interaction over abortion among activists, interest groups, legislatures, governors, and courts being played out in several states. This was sparked by the July 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services , which opened the door for states to test the limits of how far they could go in restricting access to abortion.8 Guam’s law, characterized by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney as a “Pearl Harbor for women,”9 was a remarkable legislative success. However, the lower courts ruled the law unconstitutional, and the decision to invalidate the law was left standing when, on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review. Because the challenge to its constitutionality failed to overturn Roe, many observers view this episode as an unequivocal victory for the pro-choice movement in the United States. However, a more complex story emerges when analyzing Chamorro women activists on both sides of the conflict as agents of resistance and transformation in the context of Guam’s history of colonization and the unsuccessful attempt of the people of Guam to attain decolonization through its “Quest for Commonwealth .”10 While this law,like others in the race to overturn Roe,was a local response to national policy development, it was embedded in growing local frustration over the impasse with the U.S. Congress to act on Guam’s proposal to change its political status. The signing of this bill and the appeal of the lower court’s decision all the way to the Supreme Court provided a high-profile opportunity for Guam’s governor to link his personal moral justification for the ban on abortion with a broader political cause. Just as a pregnant woman, especially in the case of first conception, is“betwixt and between fixed points of classification,”11 so Guam exists politically in a “liminal space, betwixt and between,somehow outside the normal order of sovereignty or integration.”12 I have suggested elsewhere that in Guam, the pregnant woman and the associated issue of individual self-determination (the right of the woman versus the right of the “unborn”) became a potent analogue to Guam’s political limbo and the issue of the right of the Chamorros, as an indigenous people, to political self-determination. This claim and its implications for Chamorro identity lie at the heart of the political-status question. Once the governor resolved to defend Guam’s ban on abortion against a common foe of Chamorro self-determination, namely, the U.S. Constitution, then the politics of abortion and the commonwealth quest became irrevocably entangled.13 That a challenge to Roe would come from a territory was unexpected. This was not the first time, however, that a Pacific island was at the vanguard of American abortion politics. In 1970, Hawai‘i...



Subject Headings

  • Pacific Islander American women -- History.
  • Asian American women -- History.
  • United States -- Ethnic relations.
  • Pacific Islander American women -- Social conditions.
  • Asian American women -- Social conditions.
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