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All Fired Up

Cecilia Fire Thunder Makes a Reservation for Choice

By Tracy Ziemer
AUG/SEPT 2006

Cecilia Fire Thunder (far right) at her tribal inauguration"SOUTH DAKOTA IS a pretty dismal place to be a young woman," says Sarah Stoesz, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. And she has reason to think so. In March, South Dakota governor Mike Rounds signed the nation's most restrictive abortion bill, banning the procedure statewide even in cases of incest and rape unless it is to save the mother's life. Then Senator Bill Napoli upped the insanity ante by saying that most abortions are performed for "convenience" and suggesting an exception be made only for raped religious virgins.

Badlands, indeed, but perhaps not for long. Cecilia Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and a former nurse, is attempting to counter this conservative measure with her plans to establish an abortion clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation - where state law doesn't apply. "I consider this law a travesty," Fire Thunder writes in an op-ed piece for the Yale Law School publication Opening Argument. "It imposes Christian ideology on women's most important reproductive and health decisions."

Approximately $12,000 and hundreds of supportive emails from around the world have poured in to Pine Ridge sinceFire Thunder's announcement in March. But even before the ban, South Dakota had just two Planned Parenthood clinics. Only the Sioux Falls location, however, could offer abortions, and doctors had to be flown in to perform them since local docs wouldn't. While the ban faces court challenges and a November ballot referendum, Fire Thunder will proceed with the clinic no matter how legal maneuvering shakes out. "As a tribal leader and a Lakota woman," Fire Thunder writes. "I have a responsibility to the well-being of my people." Check out www.sacredchoiceswomensclinic.org for ways to support this effort.

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