Blog: Extra abortion limits placed on Indian women
"Following scant debate, the Senate last week approved an amendment to an Indian health care bill that would permanently prohibit the use of federal dollars to fund abortions for Native Americans except in rare cases. The move has prompted an outcry from women’s health advocates—who point out that a similar ban has existed on a temporary basis for years—and from tribal groups, who are asking why Native American women should be subject to restrictions not applicable to other ethnic groups. Some charge that the Senate proposal is overtly racist.

The issue is a sensitive one in American Indian communities, where women are statistically more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than other American women—but also where victims very rarely use the exceptions to the current federally funded abortion ban in the wake of those crimes. In the face of that discrepancy, advocates say, Congress should encourage victims to take advantage of the available services, not impose tighter restrictions.

The controversy swirls around a federal law—known as the Hyde amendment—that prohibits abortion coverage under Medicaid, Medicare and Indian Health Service programs. While the Hyde law must be renewed by Congress each year, the Vitter amendment—which the Senate approved on Feb. 26—would apply Hyde’s restrictions permanently to IHS beneficiaries. For that reason, tribal health advocates charge that the Vitter language treads on the sovereignty of Indian communities and places unique constraints on native women.

"It’s a very racist amendment," said Charon Asetoyer, executive director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, "[because] it puts another layer of restrictions on the only race of people whose health care is governed primarily by the federal government. All women are subject to the Hyde amendment, so why would they put another set of conditions on us?""

Get the Story:
Mike Lillis: Extra Abortion Limitation for Native Americans Only (RH Reality Check 3/7)

Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments:
S.1200 | H.R.1328

White House Document:
Statement of Administration Policy (January 22, 2008)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov
National Indian Health Board - http://www.nihb.org

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