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Pine Ridge president vows to defeat S.D. abortion law
Challenging the ban

By Nicole Colson | April 7, 2006 | Page 2

IN SPITE of a recent abortion ban signed into law last month, women in South Dakota will still be able to exercise their right to choose if Cecelia Fire Thunder has her way.

Fire Thunder, a former nurse and president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, announced that she would open a clinic on the Pine Ridge reservation to offer abortion services to both Native American and non-Native American women.

Under the new law, signed by Gov. Mike Rounds and set to go into effect July 1, all abortions will be illegal except in cases of a threat to the life of the woman. The ban doesn't have any other exceptions--even for cases of rape, incest or when a pregnancy could severely compromise a woman's health.

Native American women will be especially impacted by the new law. "To me, it is now a question of sovereignty," Fire Thunder told a reporter. "I will personally establish a Planned Parenthood clinic on my own land, which is within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge reservation, where the state of South Dakota has absolutely no jurisdiction."

South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long admitted that as long as the doctors are Native American and the procedures are carried out on tribal land, the state ban wouldn't apply.

While saying they appreciated Fire Thunder's plans, Planned Parenthood officials said they had no immediate plans to open a new clinic. Rather than let that deter her, however, Fire Thunder has decided to press forward with a non-Planned Parenthood affiliated clinic on the reservation, to be called the "Sacred Choices Clinic."

In the meantime, the South Dakota Council for Healthy Families, of which Fire Thunder is a part, is gathering signatures on petitions for a referendum that, if approved by voters, would overturn the ban. "We're collecting signatures like crazy," Fire Thunder told the Rapid City Journal. "I'm very confident. We're not living in the 18th century."

A poll by SurveyUSA found that 61 percent of South Dakota's population oppose the new law--an even higher majority than the 57 percent opposition nationwide, according to a Fox News poll.

Even if the new law is struck down, said Fire Thunder, the women of Pine Ridge deserve a new clinic. Today, South Dakota has just one clinic--located in the eastern part of the state--that performs abortions. Native American women who live on the Pine Ridge reservation in the western part of the state must travel more than 400 miles to Sioux Falls--or travel to Nebraska, nearly 300 miles southeast.

"I think that it would be a significant help to women at that end of the state, both Native and non-Native alike," Charon Asetoyer, founder and executive director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, on the Yankton reservation in South Dakota, recently told Democracy Now! "They would have easier access. They wouldn't have to travel so far. And there are a lot of Native women that I'm aware of that actually want to abort, but don't have the means to get across the state, let alone pay for the abortion. So it makes it extremely difficult."

As Fire Thunder told KNBN-TV, "We have around 30,000 people living at Pine Ridge, half of which are 18 and under. So we're safe to say that maybe 8,000 of our residents are age 18 and under and female...We just want to make sure that something is done for women who make that decision [to have an abortion]. All we can do is provide that to them, no questions asked. It's their choice."

Donations for the Pine Ridge clinic can be sent to: OST Sacred Choices, c/o President Cecelia Fire Thunder, P.O. Box 2070, Pine Ridge, SD 57770.

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