Stupid Girls

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Native American Women Are Battling for Plan B

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Why Native American Women Are Battling for Plan B

Ute women dancers in Colorado. Ira Block/National Geographic/Getty Images

This is going to sound like a silly question, but bear with me. Why can’t they walk up to the pharmacy counter and get a few doses of Plan B in advance?
To get Plan B from Indian Health Service pharmacies, you still have to see a provider first. You have to get their approval before the pharmacy will release the drug to you. As for commercial pharmacies, oftentimes there are none on the reservation—and keep in mind that some reservations are bigger than some states. Even if there is a commercial pharmacy, you’d have to have a car or hire someone to drive you there, pay $50 for the drugs and find your way back home. That is financially inaccessible for many Native women.

In one part of the report, you talk about how IHS providers had to jump through bureaucratic hoops to serve as forensic witnesses in rape trials. I thought that was another powerful example of the red tape you’re describing now.
Right. Before Tribal Law and Order Act, an IHS provider would have to get an approval from their [local] service unit director, their area director and national headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, to serve as a witness. Often this process would take months; the prosecutor would be ready to go to court but [the delay] led to cases being dropped because [defendants] have a right to a speedy trial. This red tape was denying us Native women our due process. Now, under the law, if an IHS doesn’t hear back from his or her supervisors and headquarters within a certain amount of time, it’s assumed that they’ve been approved. That’s changing the dynamic.
Are women even aware that Plan B should be available to them without a prescription if they are 17 or older?
Many aren’t, which means Indian Health Service isn’t notifying them. Also, in bellweather states like Oklahoma, they’ve gotten a lot of propaganda and inaccurate information. A lot of women have heard through their churches that you don’t take RU-486, the abortion pill, and you don’t take Plan B because it’s also abortive. Anti-choice clergy have convinced the parishoners that Plan B isn’t really a contraceptive.
Is there any way that non-indigenous people can pitch in?
We want the Department of Health and Human Services to mandate all Indian Health Service providers to make Plan B or its generic form available to women age 17 or older over the counter and on demand. This could [also] be accomplished if the head of Indian Health Service, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, writes out a directive to all service units. Please spread the word and help us create a groundswell around this issue.