NACB and ACLU file for information on emergency contraception policies at Indian Health Services

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault

Happy Women’s History month, y’all! Just a reminder in between everyone’s celebrations of dead, racist white ladies (sorry not sorry!) that we’ve still got a long way to go reproductive justice-wise.

Over 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime. American Indian women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than other women in America, and in at least 86 per cent of the reported cases of sexual assault against American Indian and Alaska Native women, survivors have reported that the perpetrators are non-Native men.

This is especially awful considering that 90 percent of Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities do not provide emergency contraception to the Native American women they serve (NOTE: everyone deserves access to emergency contraception, regardless of whether or not they are survivors of sexual assault). Even at facilities that do provide emergency contraception, the long wait and the fact that clinics are closed on the weekend can prevent access to EC within the 120 hour period that it is effective. If the closest IHS clinic doesn’t carry EC, finding a commercial pharmacy can be incredibly difficult given the rural locations of many reservations. For some, the cost of travel alone prevents access to EC.

Just the cost of EC itself is a barrier across the board for all populations and definitely related to race and class. It is recommended to keep emergency contraception in your medicine cabinet as a precaution, but how likely is it that every person capable of becoming unintentionally pregnant can shell out $50 on a medication that they don’t need immediately to survive? That could be used for groceries, gas money, medication for children. For low income Native women, IHS is often the only way to access affordable health care.

Issues of reproductive justice for American Indian women are particularly relevant here in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has the second highest population of Native American people in the US and has 38 federally recognized tribes. Over half of the 63 IHS pharmacies surveyed by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in the Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Aberdeen, S.D., and Bemidiji, Minn. service areas that carried Plan B, but many of these pharmacies did not have the pill available over-the-counter. A NAWHERC study found that only 11 percent of the pharmacies surveyed carried emergency contraception over the counter, about half carried emergency contraception but required a prescription and a doctor’s visit, and about 43 percent of the pharmacies contacted did not carry Plan B at all. There is no uniform policy because of issues of whether the government or individual tribes are in charge of individual IHS clinics, as well as problems with funding and policy implementation.

The good news is that ACLU and NACB just filed a Freedom of Information Act request with IHS seeking information on policies governing access to over-the-counter emergency contraception at IHS facilities and demanding action from the government.

Carly is dragging herself through her last semester at OU.

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