- By Darren Thompson
Today, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a little more than a month after a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked that forewarned the public that the court was preparing to change its course on protecting abortions. The 1973 decision had provided a constitutional right to an abortion for nearly 50 years and today’s ruling will affect millions of Americans and their access to abortion.
In the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Guided by the history and tradition that map the essential components of the Nation’s concept of ordered liberty, the Court finds the Fourteenth Amendment clearly does not protect the right to an abortion. Until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion.”
The shift in protecting abortions is considered strategic, one of former President Donald J. Trump’s legacies. The former president intentionally appointed justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. All three of his appointees—Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Neil Gorsuch—were in the majority of the 6-3 ruling today.
Today’s ruling allows states to ban abortion, and some states already have trigger laws in place that kick in with the overturning of Roe v. Wade that criminalize abortion. Those with existing laws include Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming—all Republican-led states.
This decision affects Indian Country in a variety of ways, but there are no abortion clinics on Tribal lands and there has been no public statements of Tribes offering abortion services. Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt—a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma—has previously made unsubstantiated claims on Fox News that "there’s a possibility that some Tribes may try to set up an ‘abortion-on-demand’."
The chief medical provider on Tribal lands for citizens of tribes is the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Abortions are largely excluded from health care delivered by IHS because of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal dollars on abortions except in the cases of rape, incest and if a mother’s life is in danger due to the pregnancy.
If clinics and providers were to provide abortions on tribal lands, they would need to be funded privately and need to navigate local, state, and federal laws. Since Tribal doctors are licensed by state medical agencies, it’s also unlikely that they’ll perform abortions within the state.
Many leaders throughout Indian Country have voiced disapproval of today’s Supreme Court ruling.
“In Minnesota, your reproductive rights will stay protected,” said Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, on social media. “This fight is not just about those of us who have grown up under the protection of Roe v. Wade—this is about our children, our LGBTQ+ youth, and all those whose access to abortion and reproductive health has been taken away.”
Crystal Echo Hawk, founder and executive director of IllumiNative—a Native woman-led racial and social justice organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of Native people in mainstream media said in a statement:
“The Supreme Court’s decision is particularly devastating for the Native community, who will undoubtedly see an increase in violence towards Native women and girls as a result of today’s decision. Reproductive rights and systemic violence are intrinsically linked, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color women, transgender, nonbinary and Two-Spirit persons already face some of the highest rates of sexual violence and maternal death. Access to abortion and reproductive care is foundational to safety and wellbeing–this is a matter of life or death for many in Native communities.”
Ruth Buffalo, North Dakota Democratic Representative and citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes, issued the following statement to Native News Online:
“The right-wing majority of extremist justices have just undermined the fundamental right to make our own decisions about our health care, our bodies, and our families. These same extremist judges want us to think that abortion is controversial, we know it’s not. North Dakota voters rejected an abortion ban by a 2-1 vote in 2014. Our elections have consequences.
North Dakotans, including thousands of Indigenous women and women of color, will feel the tremendous negative consequences of the Supreme Court’s failure to protect our freedom to decide if, when, and how we have families. Let’s be clear, it’s the marginalized members of our communities and those with lower-incomes who will be hurt most by this decision.”
State Senator Red Dawn Foster, Oglala and Diné, representing District 27 in South Dakota said that today’s decision immediately banned abortion in South Dakota. “Unless there is appropriate and reasonable medical judgment that performance of an abortion is necessary to preserve the life of a pregnant female, abortion is no longer permitted in the state,” Foster told Native News Online. “What ‘appropriate and reasonable medical judgment’ actually looks like or how it will be determined and applied is unknown.”
A legislative special session is expected to be held later this year in the South Dakota State Legislature.
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma said that with today’s Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, two things remain unchanged: that because Cherokee Nation receives funding from the Indian Health Service, federal funding, that its health centers are prohibited from providing abortions and the Cherokee Nation will not attempt to set up abortion clinics.
“Cherokee citizens hold a range of views on this subject (abortion),” Hoskin said in a statement to Native News Online. “We must recognize how serious today’s decision is for so many women, including Native women. Now is not the time for politicians or candidates for office to use the issue to demonize Tribes and drive a wedge between citizens in order to attack Tribal sovereignty.”
Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center’s president and chief executive officer Marisa Cummings spoke of today’s decision to unite community. “The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is the beginning of America evolving a fascist theocracy rooted in white supremacy and Christian Doctrine through violence,” she said.
“Many of us are still recovering from the United States’ federal policies that have caused violence and trauma through generations,” Cummings continued in a statement to Native News Online. “It is not a time to be complacent, but a time for us to unite against these manifestations of violence.”
Crystal Echohawk, echoed Cummings comment: “We must also acknowledge that today’s decision was made, primarily, by white men. This is an issue of reproductive justice, as well as an issue of white supremacy and the control of power in our country.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify Ruth Buffalo's quote.
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