Bill intends to shield right to abortion
For the first time since abortion was legalized in Hawaii in 1970, the Legislature is preparing to amend the law.
Since Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortions, advocates and opponents largely left the law untouched because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that women had the right to an abortion with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Now, supporters fear two new conservative judges on the high court might change the ruling and that women in Hawaii would need a state law that would be difficult to pass in a heated political climate.
"We want to update our statute in the event that Roe v. Wade gets overturned," said Rep. Blake Oshiro, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Hawaii law has two sections that the state attorney general said in 1974 were unconstitutional: a 90-day residency requirement, and defining abortion as a surgical procedure that must be performed in a hospital.
The proposed amendment, House Bill 1242, would repeal those requirements. Yesterday, it was approved without changes by the Senate Health Committee.
"The abortion law had been frozen in time because when Roe v. Wade came into effect, it superseded everything," Sen. Roz Baker, Health Committee chairwoman, said.
Opponents said it would make Hawaii a haven for women seeking abortions and could lead to unsafe procedures in doctors' offices. But supporters said because of the attorney general's opinion regarding residency and hospital procedures, the bill just makes legal what has been going on for more than three decades.
Annelle Amaral, vice president of Hawaii Planned Parenthood, which supports the bill, said while it is likely to win legislative approval, the bill could be vetoed by Gov. Lingle because Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is opposed to abortion.
"The lieutenant governor seems to have the ear of the governor, and he has certainly brought to bear his Catholic beliefs," Amaral said.
So far, the Lingle administration has taken no official stand on the bill, although when Lingle campaigned in 1998 and 2002, she said she was not opposed to abortions, except partial-birth abortions.
When asked about HB 1242 when it passed the House, Lingle said she wanted to study the issue more.
"I don't know what is the current situation in the state, so I would have to get into it a lot more deeply," Lingle said.
She said the residency requirement "might already be unconstitutional," and wanted opinions from state legal and health departments.
Aiona appeared at the hearing, ready to oppose the bill if it allowed a woman with a viable fetus to obtain an abortion. But the bill was amended and he dropped his opposition.
Kelly Rosati, speaking for the Hawaii Family Forum and the Hawaii Catholic Conference, said the bill is objectionable.
"The changes the House made very much pleased us, but we still oppose it," she said.
"We think it is dangerous to a woman's health and, from our perspective, the health of the baby," Rosati said.