Native American woman activist Charyn Asetoyer met with a group of abortion rights advocates on Capitol Hill today to talk about the dismal state of reproductive healthcare on Indian reservations in the US. As outlined in the Hyde Amendment, the Indian Health Service (IHS) is required by law to provide abortion services to Native American women in need of abortions because of rape, incest and life endangerment. However, IHS facilities have only provided 25 abortions in the past 20 years, according to IHS statistics. Meanwhile, Native American women are victims of rape at a rate that is three and a half times higher than women of all other races in this country, according to the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center.
“Twenty-five in 20 years is obviously a contradiction of the number of violent crimes committed against indigenous women,” said Asetoyer, who is a member of the Yankton-Sioux tribe in South Dakota. “When a woman is turned down for rape, incest and life endangerment a law is being broken. (IHS) needs to be held accountable.”
Asetoyer noted that many doctors who work on the Indian reservations tend to be from Catholic nations such as Puerto Rico and are either ideologically opposed to abortion or have not received training in reproductive healthcare. Many doctors refuse to provide emergency contraception and no IHS facility provides mifepristone for early medical abortion.
“Those individuals are choosing to interpret the Hyde amendment as they see fit and no one is overseeing them,” Asetoyer said.
Asetoyer hopes to convince a pro-choice lawmaker to sponsor a bill that would require IHS to follow the dictates of the Hyde Amendment. Ultimately, she would like to see the US do away with the restrictions imposed by Congress on abortion services to low income women through the Hyde Amendment.
“We haven’t even aspired to the provisions of the Hyde Amendment,” she said. “We’re the only group in the US denied abortion services solely on the basis of our race.”