Rachel Lorenzo began listening to questions from strangers on Twitter a few weeks ago and from reporters for interviews: Since Native American tribes are sovereign countries, with their own laws, can they soon offer abortion services on native land in states that may prohibit abortion?
And will they?
Speculation began last month, after a leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion suggested that the court be overturned. Rowe vs. WadeThe 1973 decision that guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide.
Lorenzo and other aboriginal rights advocates say the questions are mostly from non-natives.
Lawyers said they had not heard from any tribal or aboriginal organization that they were in favor of opening a clinic on tribal land to provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of abortions, has told KHN that it is not exploring this option and that such decisions should be left to indigenous peoples.
Any such plan would be fraught with legal, financial and political hurdles, advocates said. And they were wondering why so many people are now asking about opening clinics in reservations before the nationwide abortion rights threat seems to be interested in accessing healthcare there.
“Suddenly, this problem is going to affect white women as well – or will affect white women more broadly – and is now being seen as our potential savior,” Lorenzo said. “Tribal countries should not go above and beyond when many tribal nations already have very limited resources.”
Lorenzo – director of Mescalero Apache, Laguna Pueblo, and Xicana Heritage – Indigenous Women’s Rising, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit organization that helps Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada bear the cost of abortion.
Lauren van Schiffgard, director of a legal clinic at UCLA School of Law and a member of the Kochi Pueblo, says people are looking for ways to ensure access to abortion if Rowe vs. Wade But that reservation solution is problematic. “I think people were throwing spaghetti at the wall and then suddenly I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, tribal sovereignty.’
“It’s a weird argument to say, ‘Oh, can the tribes help?’ Like, no, the tribes are already in a worse position than you, ”he said.
While some tribes lack running water and funding, many indigenous peoples – once the target of uncontested disinfection – still do not have access to high quality health care.
Oklahoma is one of the states that made the national title to pass abortion restrictions. Its governor, Republican Kevin Stitt, is also backtracking on the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extends tribal jurisdiction in the state. Stitt said during an appearance on Fox News in May that he thinks tribesmen can “try to have an abortion as needed.” They think you can be a 1 / 1,000th tribal member and not have to follow state law. And so that’s what we’re seeing. “
Carly Acheson, a spokeswoman for the state, told KHN that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has advised the governor that the tribes may be able to perform abortions on their land. He said he did not see any clear statement from the tribesmen as to whether they could try.
When speakers from the five largest tribes in Oklahoma asked KHN if any tribal members or elected representatives had offered abortions, they did not respond.
But Cherokee Nation chief Chuck Hoskin responded to Jr. Street’s comments. “It is irresponsible to speculate on what the tribes should do based on the leaked US Supreme Court decision,” Haskin wrote in a statement to the media. “The governor of Oklahoma and his disguised media are as irresponsible as the propaganda, which is really intended to attack the tribe and our sovereignty.”
Lorenzo and other Native advocates say many non-Native people are now silent on related issues affecting Native Americans, discussing the possible use of land reserved for abortion.
Since 1976, when the so-called Hyde Amendment came into force, many indigenous peoples living on conservation have lacked access to abortion services, Lorenzo said. Through the Hyde Amendment, Congress banned the use of federal money to pay for most abortions. And that means the federally funded Indian health service – the leading healthcare provider of many conservatories – can only provide abortions in limited circumstances.
Even if the tribes wanted to allow abortion services on their land, the legitimacy of doing so would be unclear, Van Schulgard said. Criminal cases involving Native American reservations are handled by tribal, state, or federal courts, depending on the circumstances.
Non-indigenous peoples accused of committing crimes against other non-indigenous peoples within a protected area are generally subject to state jurisdiction, Van Schildegarde said. So if a state makes abortion illegal, state prosecutors may be able to charge a non-Indigenous doctor who provides abortion in conservation.
Legal questions could be more complicated under a new type of abortion restriction first seen in Texas, Van Schulgarde said. He hopes to see more of those laws applied to civil, not civil, courts. Determining whether a civil, state, or federal court has jurisdiction in a civil case is more complicated than a criminal case, says Van Schildegarde.
Legal issues will not be the only obstacle to providing abortion services in tribal lands. Tribal councils are less likely to approve such clinics, said Charon Asetowar, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Education Resource Center at the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.
Assetwar said the views of many tribal leaders on abortion are based on religion. “Churches have a pretty big hold,” he said. “Politically, I think it would be very challenging to see one of our leaders stand up for women’s rights. I don’t really think it will happen. “
Other challenges may include funding and staffing such clinics, providing staff and patient safety, navigating any barriers to licensing, and paying lawyers to defend against pending cases.
Estetwar also noted that some clinics, such as South Dakota, have had to fly to doctors in other states for abortions. Would those doctors be willing to travel to reservations, some of which are a few hours away from the nearest airport?
Although current conversations about potential abortion services on Native lands are being raised mostly by non-Aborigines, Native Americans have their own history in favor of abortion and reproductive rights.
At the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 2006, Cecilia Fire Thunder attempted to open a clinic that would provide women’s healthcare, including abortion. The clinic’s plans were stepped up after Oglala Sioux Tribal Council fired Fire Thunder, the tribe’s first female president.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that creates in-depth journalism about health issues. KHN is one of the three major operating programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), including policy analysis and polling. KFF is a non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.
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