In South Dakota, where lawmakers last month passed a near-total ban on abortion, the leader of one of the state's American Indian tribes is proposing to circumvent the legislation by establishing an abortion clinic on an Indian reservation - within reach of women who need the service, but outside the reach of the strict new law.
Cecelia Fire Thunder, a former nurse who is the first female president in the history of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said it was "an eye-opener" when legislators approved a law that prohibits abortion in nearly all cases - even when the pregnancy is the product of a rape or incest. The only exception is to save the mother's life.
"An Indian reservation is a sovereign nation and we're going to take it as far as we can to exercise our sovereignty," said Fire Thunder, whose Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses 2.7 million acres in southwestern South Dakota. "As Indian women, we fight many battles. This is just another battle we have to fight."
Because federally recognized American Indian tribes are not, in many cases, required to abide by state law, a clinic could operate lawfully at Pine Ridge even with a ban in place, said South Dakota Atty. Gen. Larry Long. Tribes are, in many respects, treated as foreign nations.
Fire Thunder is one of 15 co-chairs of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which formed last week with the goal of putting the abortion ban to voters. The 59-year-old tribal leader, who said she has counseled rape victims, said it was the legislators' insistence on prohibiting abortions for women who have become pregnant as the result of a rape that drew her to speak out on the issue and propose building "a Planned Parenthood-type clinic" on tribal land.