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October 23, 2002


Communications Department

Native American Women Denied Adequate Access to Reproductive Health Care

The Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) today released the results of a study documenting the fact that Native American women's health and rights are being jeopardized by unfair discrimination resulting from federal restrictions on Medicaid funding and illegal and inconsistent application of the mandated exceptions to the Hyde Amendment, which governs federal funding for abortion services. "Our study demonstrates the urgent need to repeal the Hyde Amendment because it has a disproportionately negative effect on this country's most underserved populations," said Charon Asetoyer, Executive Director of NAWHERC.

NAWHERC, along with the National Abortion Federation (NAF), called on Congress to remedy this situation by establishing an immediate exemption to the Hyde Amendment restrictions within the Indian Health Service (IHS) and all of its units to ensure access to safe abortion services for the women who need them. "The troubling statistics in the NAWHERC report reflect the significance of the group's vital work in this area," stated Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of NAF. "We fully support and will continue to work with NAWHERC in its efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment and ensure equal access to reproductive health care for all women."

The Hyde Amendment affects all federally funded programs administered under the Department of Health and Human Services, including the IHS. The restrictions imposed by the Hyde Amendment unfairly jeopardize the health and well-being of poor women and their families, by denying these women the ability to obtain safe, legal, reproductive health care services. Women who do not have the ability to pay for abortion services may resort to self-inducing an abortion or obtaining unsafe, illegal abortions from untrained practitioners. By restricting access to abortion services by Native American women, the Hyde Amendment violates international human rights law.

NAWHERC discovered that 85% of the IHS units they contacted failed to comply with official IHS abortion policy and are operating in violation of Hyde Amendment requirements mandating federal funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.

Personnel at 62% of the surveyed Service Units reported that they provide neither abortion services nor funding for outside abortion care in cases where the woman's life is endangered by the pregnancy. Only 5% of the IHS facilities reported that they provide abortion services, and only 25 abortions have been documented within the IHS system over the past 20 years. Medical abortion using mifepristone (RU-486) was not available in any of the HIS units surveyed.

"These numbers are especially alarming in light of the amount of rape, date rape, incest and other violent sexual crimes committed in Indian communities," stated Asetoyer. "As Native American women we turn to our primary health care provider, which is the IHS, to provide us health care which includes abortion services when our lives are endangered as a result of high risk pregnancies or violent crimes. IHS refusal to provide these critical services is not only a violation of federal law under the Hyde Amendment, but is also a violation of the human rights of Native American women."

"In Native American communities, the right to practice abortion is closely tied to cultural survival and the maintenance of traditional practices," Asetoyer continued. "In traditional custom, termination of pregnancy was each woman's individual option. Women with unwanted pregnancies often consulted with other women in their various societies who were the keepers of herbs, medicines, and techniques, for assistance. Native Americans recognize that our essential reproductive right to pass on our culture is innately connected to the struggle for cultural survival. The IHS practices documented in our survey essentially deny us our traditional cultural autonomy."

Additional findings of the NAWHERC study are detailed in the group's report, Indigenous Women's Reproductive Rights: The Indian Health Service and Its Inconsistent Application of the Hyde Amendment.

To obtain a copy of the entire report contact the NAWHERC office at (605) 487-7072 or click here to download a copy. For more information about the Hyde Amendment, please contact the NAF office at (202) 667-5881.


The National Abortion Federation is the professional association of abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada dedicated to ensuring that abortion remains safe, legal and accessible.

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