Sunday, April 02, 2006

Indians Gamble On Abortions

In South Dakota, where lawmakers last month passed a near-total ban on abortion, the leader of one of the state's American Indian tribes is proposing to circumvent the legislation by establishing an abortion clinic on an Indian reservation — within reach of women who need the service but outside the reach of the strict new law, which takes effect July 1. Cecelia Fire Thunder, a former nurse who is the first female president in the history of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it was "an eye-opener" when legislators approved a law that prohibits abortion in nearly all cases, even when the pregnancy is the product of a rape or incest. The only exception is to save the mother's life. "An Indian reservation is a sovereign nation, and we're going to take it as far as we can to exercise our sovereignty," Fire Thunder said. "As Indian women, we fight many battles. This is just another battle we have to fight." Federally recognized American Indian tribes are, in many respects, treated as foreign nations. In many cases, they are not required to abide by state law, so a clinic could operate lawfully at the Pine Ridge Reservation even with a ban in place, South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long said. Currently, about 800 abortions a year are performed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, where doctors fly in once or twice a week from Minnesota. It is the only clinic in the state.