Open main menu

Abortion in the Northern Mariana Islands

Abortion in the Northern Mariana Islands is illegal by law but legal by judicial ruling and legal review. A law passed in 1985 made abortion illegal, but a review by the Attorney General said it was legal in 1995. Women in the 1990s went to the Philippines to get abortions, but had to go to Japan or Hawaii by 2018 because of changing legality in the region.



The abortion debate most commonly relates to the "induced abortion" of an embryo or fetus at some point in a pregnancy, which is also how the term is used in a legal sense.[note 1] Some also use the term "elective abortion", which is used in relation to a claim to an unrestricted right of a woman to an abortion, whether or not she chooses to have one. The term elective abortion or voluntary abortion describes the interruption of pregnancy before viability at the request of the woman, but not for medical reasons.[1]

Anti-abortion advocates tend to use terms such as "unborn baby", "unborn child", or "pre-born child",[2][3] and see the medical terms "embryo", "zygote", and "fetus" as dehumanizing.[4][5] Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are examples of terms labeled as political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light. "Pro-choice" implies that the alternative viewpoint is "anti-choice", while "pro-life" implies the alternative viewpoint is "pro-death" or "anti-life".[6] Some right-to-lifers use the term "pro-abort" to refer to pro-choice organizations and individuals.[7] The Associated Press encourages journalists to use the terms "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion".[8]


During the 1990s, women who needed abortions often traveled to the Philippines to get an abortion as there were no legal options in the Marianas.[9] Women had few options to where they could get a legal abortion including Hawaii, or Japan women had few options to where they could get a legal abortion including Hawaii, or Japan.[9]

Legislative historyEdit

Abortion in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States territory, is illegal per 11 TTC § 51, which states:

Every person who shall unlawfully cause the miscarriage or premature delivery of a woman, with the intent to do so, shall be guilty of abortion and upon conviction thereof shall be imprisoned for a period of not more than five years. (Code 1966, § 405; Code 1970, tit. 11, § 51.)[10]

This was reaffirmed with the Northern Marianas Constitution in Article 12's May 1986 supplement which said, "The abortion of the unborn child during the mother's pregnancy is prohibited by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, except as provided by law." [11] This measure was adopted in 1985.[11] It was still in place in 2018.[9]

In 2000, the law was debated after Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio asked the attorney general to review the constitutionality of the 1985 law, where having the discussion immediately met resistance from the Marianas' Roman Catholic majority.[12]

Judicial historyEdit

In a 1971 case, Trust Territory v. Tarkong, the Appellate Court of the Trust Territory (see also United States territorial court) held:

As far as the woman herself is concerned, unless the abortion statute expressly makes her responsible, it is generally held, although the statute reads any "person", that she is not liable to any criminal prosecution, whether she solicits the act or performs it upon herself.[13]

Tension has existed between Interpretations of U.S. federal law up against local Commonwealth law. However, a recent governor has asserted that until either U.S. federal or local Commonwealth courts state otherwise, or unless the Commonwealth government carves out any legal allowances, abortion remains illegal in all circumstances in the Commonwealth.[14] In 1995, the Attorney General said that constitutionally, women have a legal right to an abortion.[12] In practice, abortions to save the life of the mother or when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest occur without prosecution.[15]


In 1998, the only reason an abortion would have been publicly funded is if it was a result of rape or incest, or if continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life of the woman. This policy had been in place since April 19, 1994, and related mostly to Medicaid funding.[11]


  1. ^ According to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade:

    (a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgement of the pregnant woman's attending physician. (b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. (c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgement, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.

    Likewise, Black's Law Dictionary defines abortion as "knowing destruction" or "intentional expulsion or removal".


  1. ^ Watson, Katie (20 Dec 2019). "JD". AMA Journal of Ethics. doi:10.1001/amajethics.2018.1175. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  2. ^ Chamberlain, Pam; Hardisty, Jean (2007). "The Importance of the Political 'Framing' of Abortion". The Public Eye Magazine. 14 (1).
  3. ^ "The Roberts Court Takes on Abortion". New York Times. November 5, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2008.
  4. ^ Brennan 'Dehumanizing the vulnerable' 2000
  5. ^ Getek, Kathryn; Cunningham, Mark (February 1996). "A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing – Language and the Abortion Debate". Princeton Progressive Review.
  6. ^ "Example of "anti-life" terminology" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-11-16.
  7. ^ "Horror: Violent mob of topless pro-abort feminists attacks praying men defending cathedral (VIDEO)". LifeSiteNews. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  8. ^ Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c "No abortion providers on Guam". Pacific Daily News. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  10. ^ "Crimes and Punishment" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-29.
  11. ^ a b c Arndorfer, Elizabeth; Michael, Jodi; Moskowitz, Laura; Grant, Juli A.; Siebel, Liza (December 1998). A State-By-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 9780788174810.
  12. ^ a b "Legal opinion backs abortion". Saipan News, Headlines, Events, Ads | Saipan Tribune. 2000-05-12. Retrieved 2019-05-29.
  13. ^ "Digest of Cases Reported" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-07-29.
  14. ^ "Lang: Abortion is illegal in CNMI - Saipan News, Headlines, Events, Ads". Saipan Tribune. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
  15. ^ "Legal opinion backs abortion - Saipan News, Headlines, Events, Ads". Saipan Tribune. Retrieved 2015-07-29.