Native American Women On Reservations Are Routinely Denied Emergency Contraception

by Diana Denza

Imagine returning home from a long day of school or work and wondering if tonight was the night you’d be sexually assaulted. For the vast majority of us, it’s a thought that rarely, if ever, crosses our minds. For Native American women sadly forced to hold a “not if, but when” attitude toward rape and molestation, it is a bleak reality.

According to a 2012 Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) roundtable report, it is estimated that one in three Native American women will be molested in her lifetime, with many women arguing that numerous cases of sexual abuse continue to go unreported.

For these women, often the only way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy is emergency contraception. But for those residing on reservations, Plan B is far from easily accessible, even for women over the age of 17. In fact, the shocking roundtable report explained that some aren’t even aware that emergency contraception exists.

In part, we have the Indian Health Service (IHS) –a division of the Department of Health and Human Services– to thank for barring Native American women from effective emergency contraception. According to NAWHERC studies, a mere 10 percent of IHS pharmacies carry Plan B over the counter. Meanwhile, 37.5 percent carry some form of alternative emergency contraception. That leaves 52.5 percent of pharmacies serving Native American women with absolutely no form of emergency contraception at all. With those sort of statistics, what are the odds that women will be able to access the drug within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the window during which it most successfully prevents unwanted pregnancies?

NAWHERC rightly calls this debacle a “violation…of our fundamental human rights.” And it only gets worse from there: approximately 30 percent of IHS emergency rooms have no set protocol for caring for sexual assault victims.

This seems to go hand-in-hand with the continued treatment of Native American people as subhuman on the land we pilfered from them. In 2010, the United States Census reported that 28.4 percent of Native Americans were living in poverty compared to 15.3 percent of the general population. Meanwhile, 29.2 percent of them lacked any form of health insurance, which is nearly double the national average.

Explains Sunny Clifford, who crafted a petition to shed light on these abuses:

“I live on a reservation in South Dakota, and when I went to get emergency contraception, the IHS workers told me I’d need to drive to a clinic over an hour away. I don’t have a car and neither do many people on the rez…I live in fear that if the worst happened, I wouldn’t even have the resources to prevent a pregnancy…There’s a simple fix to this problem. Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the Director of Indian Health Services, can issue a directive to all service providers that emergency contraception be made available on demand –without a prescription and without having to see a doctor– to any woman age 17 or over who asks for it.”

Colorlines reporter Akiba Solomon details a strikingly similar ordeal, declaring that “During a pregnancy scare, particularly one produced by sexual violence, the last thing a woman needs is to navigate an interoffice directory.”

Will you join the 100,000+ people who have added their signatures to the cause for Native American women’s reproductive rights?

Image courtesy of Salon

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