By Mary Lou Greenberg
Signs have gone up in many places on the Pine Ridge Reservation: “Children Are Sacred. Vote Yes on 6” (the South Dakota abortion ban up for a vote in the Nov. 7 election).
In opposition, Indian opponents of the ban have been
distributing beautiful posters with the image of a woman, “Women Are
Sacred. Vote No on 6.” A poem on the opposite side of the flyer-sized
Women Are Sacred
It has always been that women are sacred
our mothers are teachers of our ways.
Women take care of themselves,
our children, our elders
and we all take care of the family.
The state legislature is
trying to apply rigid restrictions
on decisions that are sacred.
All women deserve to be safe from violence and
all children deserve to be wanted.
Tell the legislature to promote comprehensive
sex ed in our schools, tell them to work to
reduce domestic violence, and sexual assault.
Tell them to feed the hungry children we see every day.
Vote no on 6 and tell our elected officials
to take care of families. Send a message to
the SD legislature that Lakota women and
their families can make their own difficult decisions.
Vote NO on Referred Law 6.
Fire Thunder has gone further. She was Oglala Sioux Tribal President
until last spring when she was impeached after she stated her
opposition to the abortion ban and promised that she would build a
clinic at Pine Ridge that would be beyond state law and would perform
abortions. She is running again for Tribal President.
At a Rapid
City rally Nov. 3 against the abortion ban, she said, as reported by
the Argus Leader, “We have been Christianized. Men believe they have
the right to say what they want about our bodies. As an elder Indian
woman, it’s my job to set the record straight. It’s about choice.
Indian women have been making choices about out bodies way before
Christopher Columbus sailed.” Fire Thunder also said the abortion ban
threatens the separation of church and state.
I spoke with a
number of Indian women in Kyle, a town on the Pine Ridge Reservation,
and overwhelmingly all emphasized that it had to be the woman’s
decision. One woman who works in a small grocery store to supplement
the income she and husband bring in from raising a few head of cattle
said she had four children, two grandchildren and another on the way.
She said her sister had never wanted to have children, had had an
abortion and then had had her tubes tied. Her sister had told her, I
have two brothers and a sister and I’ll be a wonderful aunt. Another
woman said, “I think this abortion ban is really a conspiracy against
Other women talked about the lack of counseling and
support services on the reservation for women with health problems and
those who have been brutalized and sexually assaulted. If the
government really cared about women and children, one said, it would
help fund these services. There are no jobs, people don’t have running
water – and they say they care about life! (The five poorest counties
in the U.S. are in South Dakota, and all encompass Indian Reservations.)
Rapid City, the office of the Campaign for Healthy Families, the main
organizing center against the ban, was filled with people phone
banking, preparing to go door-to-door, taking out literature and
preparing for the election Tuesday. They were optimistic about
defeating it – the most restrictive abortion law in the country – and
had a good sense of the national importance of the battle. The
right-wing has looked at South Dakota as a testing ground, one told me,
and they will try to spread what happens here to the rest of the
No matter what happens Tuesday, a common sentiment is
that people have been energized in a way they haven’t been for years
and they’re determined to stay that way. A woman I talked with in Sioux
Falls told me about a friend’s recent experience at her health club.
One day when she was in the sauna she mentioned she had to leave to
“volunteer.” Another woman asked what she was doing, so she mentioned
the abortion ban. This led to a discussion that soon involved another
half dozen women – and it turned out they were all pro-choice except
one, and they had never talked about this before. Everyone had been
reluctant to speak out. But this discussion encouraged them to talk to
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