Canada Health United States

For Indigenous Peoples, the Fight for Reproductive Justice is a Constant Battle

Reproductive autonomy has paid a farewell in several U.S. states. Following Alabama’s near-total ban on the procedure along with five states having passed the heartbeat bill, one’s freedom to obtain safe abortion in parts the U.S. has been significantly undermined, and is also a great loss for survivors and non-survivors of sexual assault.

North of the “Southern Horror” however, the Final Report of the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was finally published, calling it out for what it truly is: a genocide.

Included in the 1200-page document were multiple call-to-action clauses directed to various departments and persons, touching on the sexual assault of Indigenous girls, women, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.  A call to justice demands the amendment of laws related to sexual violence, with direct input from Indigenous peoples. In wake of the sexual abuse allegations of Indigenous peoples by hydro workers, a call for extraction and development industries suggests for a “better understanding of the relationship between resource development and extraction projects and violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people”.

Indigenous peoples grapple with sexual assault at a disproportionately higher rate. In fact, they suffer sexual assaults the highest out of any demographic in the United States and Canada. The degree of vulnerability that seemingly goes hand and hand with being an Indigenous person has created a cycle of victimhood in cases of radicalized violence. As a mere 4% of the Canadian population, those identifying as Indigenous compose 50% of the country’s victims of human trafficking. The weight of knowing that as an Indigenous person, the likelihood of being a victim of sexual assault, homicide, and human trafficking extends the national average by multiple folds, is a tremendous burden.

In the U.S. and Canada, Indigenous populations have been on the forefront of pro-choice movements. Even after the settlements following Roe vs. Wade, Indigenous peoples have been in a constant battle for the reclamation of their reproductive rights. Lack of accessibility when it comes to abortion is hardly news for those who reside on reservations; prior to the recent bans in the United States, those living on reserves have been denied the right to an accessible abortion due to the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal abortion coverage under Medicaid. Due to the implications of the amendment, the Indian Health Service (IHS), considered a federal branch under Medicaid, does not receive funding under such act. Thus, if an Indigenous person falling under the coverage of the IHS wishes to receive an abortion, they are likely to be forced to dig into their own pockets for a procedure that can cost upwards of  $3000.

In a number of states, abortion remains uncovered by Medicaid even in cases of rape or incest. This is an obstruction that affects Indigenous women especially, who are three times as likely to become victims of sexual assault in contrast with the general population. Indigenous women also make a meager 46% of what non-Indigenous men make and when limited by law, abortions necessary for Indigenous women are more than challenging to obtain. When barriers are put into place that bar abortion for Indigenous peoples specifically, it becomes a problem of not just access, but of systemic oppression.

Despite the jarring lack of accessibility we witness today, traditional Indigenous cultures place immense value on reproductive freedom. Birth control methods in the form of herbal remedies are bound within the cultural fabric, predating European methods brought overseas. Policies built on colonialism and the foundations of modern liberalism continue to rob Canada and the U.S.’s first peoples of the freedom to live using the practices and beliefs passed down centuries upon centuries before European settlement. The demise of the right to have choice in reproductive matters is simply a product of colonial policies that inherently work against Indigenous peoples by the forced coercion into the adoption of settler values.

Restrictions on the bodily autonomy of Indigenous peoples is merely one of the countless policies founded on the basis of colonial ideals that further impede on an Indigenous person’s freedoms. Any step towards limiting reproductive autonomy is a step backwards from the reconciliation and healing of Indigenous peoples. For there to be justice for Indigenous peoples, reproductive justice is one of the many policies that must be delivered.

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