Hawaiʻi reacts to Supreme Court decision to end constitutional protections for abortion
In a historic and far-reaching decision, the U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade on Friday, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion upheld for nearly a half-century no longer exists.
The decision, most of which was leaked in early May, means that abortion rights will be rolled back in nearly half of the states immediately, with more restrictions likely to follow.
Hawaiʻi's attorney general said that despite the ruling, abortion remains protected under Hawaiʻi law. Hawaiʻi was the first state to legalize abortion in 1970.
"In the State of Hawaiʻi, individuals have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies and futures; these decisions are profoundly personal," state Attorney General Holly Shikada said in a statement. "The Department of the Attorney General will continue its work in the fight to protect and strengthen reproductive rights."
All four members of Hawaiʻi's congressional delegation, Gov. David Ige, state legislative leaders and others also condemned the decision.
“Today is a horrific day in America," U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a press release. "The Supreme Court was confronted with a fundamental question: who should have control over a woman’s body, a woman or a bunch of politicians. Today, the Supreme Court decided it should be a bunch of politicians. Their decision to overturn Roe will go down as one of the worst decisions in the history of the Court."
In downtown Honolulu, about 200 people gathered in front of the Prince Kūhiō Federal Building on Friday afternoon to protest the decision.
"Just thinking about women who no longer have control over their own body, the most fundamental basic right. To tell women they cannot make the most important decision that will affect their life is outrageous," said Liz Rees, one of the coordinators with Rise Up For Abortion Rights Hawaiʻi and Refuse Facism Hawaiʻi.
Many of the protestors wore green T-shirts and bandanas. The color choice comes from the Latin American reproductive rights movement nicknamed the “green tide.”
"I'm here because our collective liberation is tied up together. We need to stand in solidarity. I know as a queer man myself, what's next? Are they gonna criminalize gay marriage? Are they gonna prevent me from loving who I love?" said Christopher Unruh at the protest on Friday.
Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women, said community members she's heard from are sad and mad.
But Jabola-Carolus said she's confident that Hawaiʻi will continue moving forward on women's reproductive rights. She added that people should not shy away from having these conversations with marginalized communities in the islands.
“I'm heartbroken for women in the United States. But I am not shaken at all for the status of women in Hawaiʻi," Jabola-Carolus said. "There is no way in hell that this ruling will have a negative impact on women in Hawaiʻi because we are not on the timeline of merely responding to crisis. We have been protecting and expanding women's access to abortion this entire time in Hawaiʻi. That's not going to stop or change with this ruling.”
But Valerie Streff, co-director of the Respect Life Office at the Roman Catholic Church’s Diocese of Honolulu, said she has prayed for the end of abortion for several decades and is happy with the ruling. She said each of their 66 parishes has a representative promoting anti-abortion programs.
"Right now, we know that Hawaiʻi is a very liberal, Democratic state, and it is already instituted in our Constitution that abortion is legalized," Streff said.
"Some states have already banned abortion entirely, or to some degree after the first trimester," she said. "So what are we going to see? We're gonna see many people coming from states like Texas, or states that have banned abortion, coming to Hawaiʻi to ensure that they have the abortion done here."
Twenty-two states have laws or constitutional amendments already in place that will immediately ban abortions or pave the way to ban or severely restrict access to them, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute, a group that favors abortion rights. Several additional states appear likely to enact new restrictions.
But that's not the case in Hawaiʻi, said William S. Richardson School of Law professor Andrea Freeman, prior to the Supreme Court decision. Thousands of miles from Washington, Hawaiʻi was the first state to make abortion access legal in 1970.
"It won't change the abortion law of Hawaiʻi. It will just mean that the abortion law of Hawaiʻi could be changed," Freeman said previously. For abortion to be outlawed in Hawaiʻi, the state Legislature would need to pass a bill to codify it into law.
Earlier this month, the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women and Hawaiʻi Women’s Coalition released a list of 47 elected officials who formally pledged to protect and strengthen abortion access.
The pledge was signed by Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, 72% of senators, and 53% of representatives — including House Speaker Scott Saiki. At publication, it was not signed by Senate President Ron Kouchi.
But on Friday, 57 Democratic members of the state Legislature, including Kouchi, said in a joint statement, "The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade is deeply disturbing."
"Today’s ruling means we need to remain vigilant and continue to ensure that a woman’s right to reproductive health care is protected in Hawaiʻi and access is provided to those who need it. Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to grow up in a country where they are afforded more rights, not less," the legislators said.
Those who live in the continental U.S. and want to get an abortion in Hawaiʻi would have a long flight. Arizona and Utah are the closest states that would restrict abortion rights following the ruling, but direct flights from Phoenix and Salt Lake City take at least 6 hours. There are several direct flights each day from three Texas cities to Hawaiʻi, but it takes roughly 8 hours to fly.
In the broader Pacific region, women from the remote U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands will likely have to travel farther than other Americans to terminate a pregnancy.
Hawaiʻi is the closest state where abortion is legal. Even so, Honolulu is 3,800 miles away — about 50% farther than Boston is from Los Angeles.
It's already difficult to get an abortion in Guam, a small, heavily Catholic island of about 170,000 people south of Japan. The last physician who performed surgical abortions there retired in 2018.
Two Guam-licensed doctors who live in Hawaiʻi see patients virtually and mail them pills for medication abortions, The Associated Press reported in May. But this alternative is available only until 11 weeks gestation.
Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa also have the potential to adopt prohibitions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. None have legal protections for abortion, and they could revive old abortion bans or enact new ones, according to the organization.