Lang: Abortion is illegal in CNMI

Posted on May 17 2000

Abortion is illegal in the Northern Marianas as provided under the CNMI Constitution unless both the Commonwealth and U.S. judicial systems decide otherwise, according to former Gov. Froilan C. Tenorio.

Belittling a legal opinion issued in 1995 when he was the governor, Mr. Tenorio said that view was “flawed” on several grounds as the Constitution bans abortion on the island “until our courts say otherwise.”

Based on the legal analysis written by former Attorney General Richard Weil and Assistant Attorney General Celeste Andersen on March 10, 1995, a woman’s right to have an abortion in the CNMI is guaranteed under the Covenant, the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court case law, the CNMI Constitution and the federal statutory law.

“[T]he two attorneys interpreting the Covenant, Constitution and laws of the United States on abortion was immaterial as this was a legal matter outside of the CNMI attorney general’s purview,” Mr. Tenorio said in a letter to Saipan Tribune, adding that he doesn’t remember requesting the AGO at that time for a legal opinion.

“Their interpretation at any rate should be viewed only as informational and solely for the benefit of the Department of Health, and also just an opinion. But just because the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that abortion was legal in the United States does not make it legal here also,” he added.

The former governor made a parallelism to the recent case in which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a federal court decision upholding the three-seat representation in the CNMI Senate for each of the three islands — Rota, Tinian and Saipan.

It ruled that the “one person, one vote” principle under the U.S. Constitution — which was invoked by petitioners against the present Senate composition — does not apply to the Commonwealth since the Covenant guarantees such representation for people on Rota and Tinian.

“We should learn a lesson from that case,” Mr. Tenorio explained, “and that is the U.S. Constitution protects only the rights of American citizens residing within the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”


He stressed that until the Commonwealth and U.S. courts decide on the issue, abortion is illegal here as provided by the Constitution which he said is the law of the land.

“Until provisions as provided by law are approved, abortion for whatever reasons is against the law. And under the Commonwealth Constitution, the attorney general is mandated to prosecute those who violate Commonwealth law,” said Mr. Tenorio.

At present, there is no local statutory law that penalizes anyone violating the constitutional ban on abortion on the island, although there have been efforts in the past to enact legislation allowing abortion on demand here. Such proposals, however, have been shot down due to strong protests by church leaders.

The legality of abortion has drawn heated debate in the past few days since the House of Representatives last week met at closed door to discuss the issue. Members have remained mum on what actions the chamber will take concerning the issue.

Bishop Tomas A. Camacho has condemned efforts by some quarters to legalize the practice in the CNMI, noting reports that abortion is being performed on the island and that some people suggest it is already legal.

Legal experts believe the CNMI is bound by the U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling on Roe vs. Wade which recognizes that the government may regulate abortion to promote its legitimate interests in protecting the life and health of the mother and in protecting the potentiality of life.

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