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2006-03-28

South Dakota Abortion Ban Draws Fiery Opposition from Native Americans

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Cecilia Fire Thunder, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, recently made waves when she said a clinic on the Pine Ridge reservation could provide abortions if South Dakota’s new abortion ban goes into effect. The ban is set to go into effect July 1st. It would prohibit all abortions except to save the life of the mother — with no exceptions for rape or incest. [includes rush transcript]

Under the law doctors will face up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine for performing an abortion. Fire Thunder said earlier last week she would "personally establish a Planned Parenthood Clinic on my own land." She later said she would support a clinic being set up on any reservation in South Dakota.

According to Fire Thunder, the state law would not apply to Indian lands because of tribal sovereignty. In a press release Friday, Planned Parenthood expressed gratitude, but said they didn’t have the resources to open a reservation clinic. South Dakota is home to 8 tribes, and has one of the largest Native American populations of any state.

Currently only one clinic in the state performs abortions: the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls at the extreme eastern part of the state. Doctors from Minnesota come to the clinic eight days a month. Native American women who live in the Western part of South Dakota must either travel more than four hundred miles to Sioux Falls or to an area of Nebraska, which lies almost 300 miles southeast of the Pine Ridge reservation.

The South Dakota Campaign For Healthy Families is aiming to collect enough signatures to bring the abortion question to a statewide referendum in November. Both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups claim they are ready to bring the issue to a vote.

Indian Country Today reported that if the law takes effect, Native American women will be impacted in greater numbers than any other group. According to national statistics, Native women are sexually assaulted at a rate 3.5 times higher than all other racial groups.

Related Links:
South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families
Indian Country Today: South Dakota’s Abortion Ban has Sweeping Implications

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by the phone right now by Charon Asetoyer, founder and executive director of Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, grassroots women’s health institute on the Yankton reservation in South Dakota. We’re also joined by Sarah Stoesz, on the line from Minnesota, President and C.E.O. of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood. Can you talk about the significance of what has taken place now in South Dakota?

SARAH STOESZ: Well, South Dakota has passed an extremely sleeping ban on abortion, a near total ban on abortion, the first time any state has taken such an action since Roe v. Wade, so it’s had a ripple effect, not only across South Dakota, where there have been political reverberations that will be felt definitely during the next six months and at the ballot box in November, but also across the United States and, in fact, all around the world. Our phone has been ringing off the hook since the 23rd of February, when the law was passed, with reporters calling us from New Zealand and from England and from Japan and Germany, and so on, saying, 'What on earth is happening in your country, and what on earth is happening in South Dakota?' So there has been intense focus on this legislative effort in South Dakota and a great deal of concern, of course, because of the recent changeover in the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, a Mississippi ban was killed, is that right?

SARAH STOESZ: Well, that’s correct, but I don’t expect that a ban quite as significant as the ban that was passed in South Dakota will be passed in other states. I sincerely think that the legislators and governor in South Dakota have made a significant political overreach, but I will also say that there’s been some benefit to the pro-choice community, in them doing this, because it has really awakened and stirred the passions of the reproductive rights movement across the country. And there’s quite a bit of grassroots organizing that is beginning to take place all around the country, certainly in South Dakota, but in other places, as well, to ensure that this ban never takes effect in South Dakota and similar bans are not passed elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Charon Asetoyer, do you support opening a clinic on a reservation, where women could get abortions there?

CHARON ASETOYER: Yes, I do. I think that it would be a significant help to women at that end of the state, both Native and non-Native alike. They would have easier access. They wouldn’t have to travel so far. And there are a lot of Native women that I’m aware of that actually want to abort, but don’t have the means to get across the state, let alone pay for the abortion, and so on and so forth. So it makes it extremely difficult. And time is always of the essence, you know. It’s always a very important factor in whether a woman can access those services or not. And so, I think I definitely would support the opening of a women’s clinic there on the Oglala Sioux Nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Stoesz, is Planned Parenthood considering working with the President of the Oglala Sioux, President Fire Thunder, in opening such a clinic or running one themselves on the reservation?

SARAH STOESZ: Yeah, President Fire Thunder is a good friend to Planned Parenthood, and in fact, she’s a member of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, and we collaborate with her regularly. At this point, we are not planning on closing our clinic in Sioux Falls. I want to make it very clear that although the law was passed and signed by the governor, it does not take effect until July 1. And during that period, we intend to challenge the law in court to prevent it from being — from ever taking effect or to bring it to the voters directly in South Dakota. There’s a provision that allows that to happen. And so we’re currently — the Campaign for Healthy Families is currently in the signature gathering phase of our work to bring this law to the voters. So we are very confident that the voters will overturn this law. We do not believe that it will ever go into effect, and we are very, very committed to keeping our clinic in Sioux Falls open.

We have a clinic also in Rapid City, which is on the western end of the state. And we do not perform abortion at that clinic. The reason we don’t is because there are not any doctors in South Dakota who agree to perform abortion, and so consequently we fly doctors in from Minnesota to South Dakota to Sioux Falls eight days per month to offer these services. And it’s absolutely true that access to abortion is very, very limited in South Dakota as a result of all of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me turn Charon Asetoyer. This raises as a lot of interesting issues about jurisdiction on a Native American reservation. South Dakota State Attorney General Larry Long said major crimes committed on reservations come under state jurisdiction if they’re committed by non-Indians, that only abortions performed by a Native American abortion practitioner would have a chance of staying legal if the abortion ban were upheld.

CHARON ASETOYER: Well, that’s a possibility, to find a Native American doctor that could be brought in to perform pregnancy termination services. I know the Feminist Women’s Health Clinics have contacted me. In fact, one of the only Native American women in the country that runs an abortion clinic is Katrina Cantrell out in the Redding office in California. She sits on our board of directors. She contacted me wanting to assist Cecilia in this endeavor, so if it’s not a Planned Parenthood endeavor, then it would be an independent endeavor.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Charon Asetoyer, founder and executive director of Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, as well as Sarah Stoesz, President and C.E.O. of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, thanks so much for all joining us.

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