Emergency contraception is now being offered at most Indian Health Service clinics around the country but it’s not certain the medication will be offered in the future.
The availability of the drug is due in part to the efforts of a group called The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) located on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and the ACLU, but will it continue to be offered?
Executive Director of NAWHERC, Charon Asetoyer, says that currently it’s been confirmed through emails and word of mouth.
“Indian Health Service was resisting making emergency contraception available to our women as an OTC (over the counter),” she says. “As of about a month ago Indian Health Service started providing emergency contraceptives as an OTC. Just about most of them, the majority of the service units are doing it now.”
Although NAWHERC had launched a well-organized campaign to get IHS to provide emergency contraceptives, Asetoyer said it took the help of the ACLU filing an open records request as to why IHS had not implemented the policy that got the ball rolling and emergency contraceptives were made available.
Asetoyer, a member of the Comanche Nation, is looking for a permanent solution.
“We know that directives can be rescinded anytime. Policy in place is a much sounder way of protecting us as consumers to make sure that things stay in place,” Asetoyer says.
The policy change would not require a congressional directive, unlike many issues in Indian Country. The Director of Indian Health Service, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, can put a policy in place.
To maintain their momentum, the group is offering workshops across Indian Country. Asetoyer says Native American women, be they counselors, victims’ advocates or just concerned citizens, can come and get information for their tribes, friends and family.