Elections 2012: Abortion Debate Targets Native Students at University of New Mexico

The debate about abortion rights surfaced on the University of New Mexico campus this week – and American Indians were the focus. A poster with a fetus inside of a medicine wheel read: Abortion Extinction. Then it said, “Today, an Indian boy was killed the Indian way. Hey ya hey!”

Native students organized a protest on Wednesday and the posters were removed.

“The first thing that went through my mind was pure hurt, and then I was angry," UNM senior Paula Herbert told KOAT in Albuquerque. “I left, and I actually cried in the hallway because it hurt me. My people were represented in a negative light.”

Signs in the native protest said: “Racism is not pro-life” and “We will not be used to further your political purpose.” The Native students did not get into the abortion debate, responding instead about the negative depiction of Native Americans in the posters.

The Native students also organized a Facebook group and by Thursday had nearly a hundred members and 370 more pending invitations. One of the students who created the page, Kelly Francisco, wrote: “Great Job everyone today! We received a few mixed responses from the community, but for the most part, we gained support from not only the Native American community here at UNM, but also other departments and organizations in a unified effort.”

There is a national campaign against abortion rights, timed around the election season. It calls itself “the largest and longest internationally coordinated pro-life mobilization in history.”

According to KOAT, The local 40 days group denied that the sign was from their organization. “The sign is not a 40 Days for Life sign. It was not part of the table exhibit on the UNM campus, and the message does not represent the positive and life-affirming position of the group,” the television station said.

The student newspaper, The Daily Lobo, quoted Samantha Serrano, director of Catholic Apologetics Fellowship and Evangelism, saying the posters were from someone who was not affiliated with their organization. She apologized for the posters saying they do not represent their views.

UNM students on their web page said that several signs targeting communities of color were posted as part of the 40 days campaign on campus at the same time.

“We must work together in addressing our concerns to the University, in regards to the misrepresentation and hateful messaging, the page said. Their protest was a direct response to “let 40 Days for life know their actions are inappropriate and not to be tolerated.”

Native women have fewer health care and reproductive choice options than other communities because Congress, through the Hyde Amendment, has expressly forbid abortions either through the Indian Health Service or Medicaid, except in rare circumstances such as rape or incest. However the National Abortion Rights Action League said: “Despite these exceptions, obtaining even Hyde-permissible abortion care is nearly impossible for most [Indian Health Service] beneficiaries because of the remote locations of most reservations and the lack of abortion facilities within the IHS system. Funding restrictions on abortion coverage in the IHS, combined with other barriers to access, renders the right to choose effectively meaningless for Native-American women who rely on IHS for their health care.”

A February report, Indigenous Women’s Dialogue, said that “from 1973 – 2001 throughout its 157 IHS and Tribal managed Service Units, IHS performed only 25 abortions under the Hyde Amendment.”

Because of the epidemic rates of incest, rape and the lives of women endangered by pregnancy, “our documented research revealed that the vast majority – 85 percent – of IHS Service Units were not in compliance with the official IHS abortion directive, which supports the Hyde Amendment.”

That same report found that the Indian Health system is even unable to provide Plan B contraception. “Unfortunately statistics tell us that Native American women are sexually assaulted at a higher rate then all other women in the United States and receive less health care services and less “due process” after a sexual assault,” the report said. “This situation is unacceptable and must be resolved in order to bring some relief and equality in treatment to Native American women.”

Plan B is an over-the-counter contraception that’s used after unprotected sex.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.