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If Roe is reversed, Indigenous people see even more barriers to body sovereignty


For many Indigenous women in the United States, getting reproductive care, including abortions, has never been easy. So how much harder will that get for Native women if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and states move ahead with plans to ban abortion?

To talk about this, I'm joined now by Pauly Denetclaw. She's a national political correspondent for Indian Country Today. Welcome.

PAULY DENETCLAW: Thank you so much for having me.

FLORIDO: What have Indigenous women told you about how they're feeling about the possibility of Roe being overturned?

DENETCLAW: There has been a myriad of responses, but I do want to say that Indigenous folks that I talked to in New Mexico with the Indigenous Women Rising were not surprised that this was the direction that Roe v. Wade would go, especially with this Supreme Court. They had very little hope; whereas I talked to folks in Oklahoma who said that they had really hoped that this wouldn't happen, especially for states like Oklahoma, where they have already passed these bans on abortion.

And then I also talked to another organizer, again in New Mexico, who was just incredibly disheartened, who has three daughters. And having to tell her daughters, you know, that this is a possibility of it being overturned was something that she was really disheartened to have to tell her daughters about.

FLORIDO: You have reported on barriers that Native women have faced in getting abortion in the United States for decades. What are some of the biggest?

DENETCLAW: So when it comes to reproductive rights in Indigenous community, body sovereignty has always been an issue since colonization. But within the last few decades, the biggest issues that have come up are around the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal dollars to fund any type of abortion care services except for in three specific cases - rape, incest and the life of the mother is in danger. And so Indian Health Services, which is the primary facility for Indigenous people and uses federal dollars, often has their hands tied when it comes to providing abortion care because IHS facilities are not equipped to offer that type of care even under those three circumstances.

And also, I do want to mention that Indian Health Services also did many forced or coerced sterilization of Indigenous women, and this was a practice that went on from the 1960s to around the mid-1970s. The statistic is that 1 in 4 Indigenous women during that timeframe had gotten forced or coerced sterilization through IHS facilities.

FLORIDO: And so now, with the U.S. Supreme Court seeming to be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, do you expect that access to abortions for Native women will get even harder?

DENETCLAW: It will definitely get harder, especially in Texas and Oklahoma. And we have already seen huge influxes of Indigenous women - this is from Indigenous Women Rising, an abortion fund - who noted that after the abortion ban in Texas, Indigenous women were having to travel to New Mexico in order to access that care. And one of the things that they were worried about is that now Indigenous women from Oklahoma will have to travel to states like New Mexico in order to receive that care. There are financial barriers that exist when it comes to having to make that journey to New Mexico from Oklahoma. Sometimes child care is an issue. Sometimes they're also caring for elders. And so that just creates another host of issues.

FLORIDO: Pauly Denetclaw is with Indian Country Today. Thanks for joining us.

DENETCLAW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Roberta Rampton is NPR's White House editor. She joined the Washington Desk in October 2019 after spending more than six years as a White House correspondent for Reuters. Rampton traveled around America and to more than 20 countries covering President Trump, President Obama and their vice presidents, reporting on a broad range of political, economic and foreign policy topics. Earlier in her career, Rampton covered energy and agriculture policy.

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