Denby Fawcett: Protecting Hawaii's 'Fragile' Abortion Rights After Roe - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

Opinion article badgeLike many women I was stunned to read the leaked draft opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito calling for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I was outraged by the possibility that five men and one woman might scrap nearly a half century of women’s federally protected rights to abortions, now embraced by women as a much larger freedom — the right to control their futures as well as the possible economic well-being of their families.

I felt sad about this giant step backward, remembering how far women have come from the days of my youth in the 1950s when abortions were illegal in Hawaii and women were held back by dozens of other restrictive laws, including a prohibition against having bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages in their own names.

At an abortion rights rally in Waikiki Saturday, many of the speakers echoed the refrain: “We will not go back.”

I like the forceful way New York Times opinion writer Maureen Dowd protested the power of five and perhaps six justices to hurl back women’s rights into the Dark Ages.

“It’s outrageous that five unelected, unaccountable and relatively unknown political operatives masquerading as impartial jurists can so profoundly alter our lives,” writes Dowd.

Former President Donald Trump, who knew Evangelical Christians would never accept his sinful ways, cut a bargain with the religious right by promising he would deliver them a Supreme Court that would abolish Roe v. Wade. And that is where we are today. Waiting for it to happen.

If Roe is overturned, the legality of abortion will be left up to individual states.

Demonstrators gather at the entrance near the Honolulu Zoo in a rally and march to defend the right to abortion.
Demonstrators gather near the entrance to the Honolulu Zoo in a rally and march to defend the right to abortion. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

In an interview Friday, state Sen. Rosalyn Baker said women in Hawaii can rest easy they will continue to have legal access to abortions no matter what happens in the high court.

Abortion rights have been protected in the islands since Hawaii became the first state in the country to legalize abortions in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Hawaii’s governor at the time, John A. Burns, refused to veto the bill; instead, he let the right to an abortion become a law without his signature even though he was staunchly opposed to abortions.

In a letter to Hawaii’s people, he wrote that a governor “must never let his private political and religious convictions unduly influence his judgment as governor of all the people.” Burns felt making abortions legal was the will of Hawaii’ s people.

It is important to remember this happened even though Burns, a devout Roman Catholic, was dead set against medically terminating pregnancies.

When his polio-stricken wife Beatrice was pregnant with their youngest son, her doctor told her she must have an abortion to save her life. But neither she nor Burns would agree to that.

James Seishiro Burns was born, a healthy eight pounds. If you wonder why the former Chief Judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals had a Japanese middle name: Gov. and Mrs. Burns gave him the name to honor Professor Henry Seishiro Okazaki of Nikko Sanatorium, whose massages and treatments the Burns family believed helped Beatrice survive her pregnancy.

That was a different time when more politicians seemed dedicated to making life in Hawaii better for everyone rather trying to advance their own personal views or kowtow to special interests to benefit only a few.

Now anti-abortion advocates are expected to try to whittle away at reproductive freedom even in blue states like Hawaii.

Eva Andrade, president of Hawaii Family Forum, said the Christian pro-life group is waiting for a final decision from the court before deciding on a plan of action. But, she said, “until then, we will be doing what we have always done which is to care for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies and guide them to services that will help them.”

Sen. Baker says, “We have had assaults on abortion rights before but we have always held them off.”

She remembers failed attempts in the Legislature to block grants to Planned Parenthood’s clinics and other bills lawmakers shelved that would have limited access to abortions.

“The Democrats and the Republicans from both the House and the Senate introduced bills almost every year to weaken our abortion or reproductive health or education laws. Fortunately they never got anywhere,” Laurie Field wrote in a text. Field is the former legislative affairs director for Planned Parenthood in Hawaii.

But the forces against abortion are emboldened now. If the high court throws out Roe, 13 states are poised to trigger laws to ban abortions; other states already severely restrict abortion access.

Longtime Planned Parenthood volunteer Marjorie Au says despite abortion’s longtime legality in Hawaii, the right has always been fragile, and its future will always be subject to the whims of political change.

Planned Parenthood board member Cu Ri Lee affirms that abortion rights are currently the law of the land and well established in Hawaii state law but their future cannot be taken for granted.

She called the possibility raised by Republicans in Congress of approving a national ban on abortions “terrifying,” though such a nationwide ban would face legal challenges.

People gather near the entrance of the Honolulu Zoo for a rally and march to defend the right to abortion.
Though Hawaii was the first state to legalize abortion, women on the neighbor islands still confront the problem of access. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Lee says a key issue in Hawaii is the lack of access to abortion services, particularly for women living on the neighbor islands. Planned Parenthood has only one clinic besides its clinic in Honolulu, in Kahului on Maui.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there is a Planned Parenthood clinic on Hawaii island.

For women having to pay for air travel and lodging to access abortions away from their home islands, the expense can be financially daunting. And during the height of the pandemic there were additional barriers to travel between the islands, such as quarantine and Covid testing restrictions.

Lee is on the board of the Planned Parenthood’s alliance of six states that includes Hawaii.

Planned Parenthood says the organization is focusing now on increasing access to abortions on the neighbor islands and pushing for legislation to ensure that abortion and reproductive health be made available to all people in Hawaii at no cost.

As this fight rages on, you have to wonder why it has to be this way. I respect the deeply held religious views of abortion opponents, but at the same time, I wish they could bring themselves to back off and respect the rights of all women to decide their own fates, especially when almost every state already limits how late a woman can have an abortion.


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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

Dear Denby Fawcett, Why would you worry ? We live in a state run by Democrats. You remember those guys don't you, they are the ones that are for abortion. If the SCOTUS strikes down RvW et. al., we can just revote in the law as we here want it to be. It's not a problem. Our gov't leaders should quite possibly be discussing how best to do this so there will be no break in legality.

BumbleBall · 6 months ago

I'm pro-choice, but this argument strikes me as disingenuous. Women comprise both the majority of the US population, and the majority of US voters. This move by SCOTUS takes the power away from nine unelected, mostly male justices, and puts it into the hands of women, i.e. the majority of the voting public.

FutureNihon · 6 months ago

"If Roe v. Wade is overturned as a leaked draft opinion suggests, it will be up to states to decide the legality of abortion for their residents."Hawai'i has already decided! What an excuse to stir up an emotional issue here for no reason when so many bigger problems face our Islands.

MauiSharkMan · 6 months ago

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