The Battle for Reproductive Justice: Denying Indian Women Plan B Affects All Women

Chloe Haimson

As the presidential election approached, we heard plenty of political rhetoric about reproductive rights. From abortion laws to "legitimate rape," everyone seems to have an opinion about women’s bodies.

 It’s time we refocus the conversation and stand back to examine the effect these decisions are having on real women—not merely characters featured in politicians’ talking points.

As a recent female college graduate, entering into the professional world, I often hear the debate regarding whether women can have it all: career, kids, and a healthy marriage. It’s an important question but there’s an inherent privilege that’s implied by asking it.  What about this question—forget “having it all” for a moment—can women even have Plan B?

To answer the question, I spoke with Charon Asetoyer, a health activist working with young women on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She is leading the battle for reproductive justice in the Native American community and, ultimately, for women everywhere.

Charon Asetoyer“Native women cannot get Plan B through their primary healthcare provider, Indian Health Service (IHS). We’re looking at more than 1 in 3 Native women being raped in her lifetime and Indian Health Service is doing absolutely nothing to address these residual affects of rape. That is a human rights violation being committed against Native women everyday in this country,” says Asetoyer.

Very few IHS pharmacies administer over-the-counter Plan B (the morning after pill) and many do not carry it at all. Asetoyer says that what 26-year-old Lakota Sunny Clifford experienced is all too common.

“I wasn’t even aware I could get Plan B from IHS,” Clifford, who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation, tells me. This past July, Clifford called her local clinic to request the emergency contraceptive. In the United States, every woman 17 and older is legally entitled to access Plan B over the counter. However, Clifford’s clinic in Kyle, South Dakota told her that she would have to get a prescription from the midwife who was not in the office. Her other options were to drive to Wanbli Health Center or Pine Ridge, both of which are about 50 miles away.

 “I sat there and cried a little bit. It was really frustrating for me. I was sitting there and I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I didn’t have a car. I felt powerless,” says Clifford.

Remember the beginning of this post, when I told you I wanted to talk about the effect reproductive rights policies are having on REAL women. Well, here’s an example: Asetoyer explains that often mothers will walk into her office, wanting to know when Plan B will be widely accessible. “They want more information about Plan B so they can talk to their daughters so that when they are sexually assaulted, they’ll know about it and be able to request it.”

It’s frightening to consider how something so horrific becomes the norm. There is no question; rather, it’s an expectation for these women that one day their daughter may be sexually assaulted. Asetoyer adds, “That’s shocking when a mother says when my daughter is sexually assaulted. And that is absolutely unacceptable in every other community and the government is doing little of anything to help address this.”

It is an outrage that not only may it be difficult to physically access Plan B but also the lack of information regarding emergency contraceptives can serve as an obstacle for young women who have been sexually assaulted.

Sunny CliffordMost women living in non-rural areas can simply walk into their local pharmacy and request Plan B. So what does all this have to do with the vast majority of women in America? As Asetoyer explains, “These issues are not only affecting Native women but anytime a woman is denied a right, it affects all women. Because if they can get by with it with a small segment of the population in the country then they’re gonna be able to get by with it with another group.”

We need to be careful when we discuss this question of “having it all. ” What does it mean? Who are we talking about it? Many of us can walk into a pharmacy and request Plan B without the worry of whether the person at the counter will tell us to travel hours away. For some women, justice does not simply begin at economic opportunities equal to men but also encompasses a human right to control our reproductive systems that more privileged women, myself included, take for granted everyday. The truth is no woman can count on “having it all” as long as some women continue to be denied even the basics.

For more information, please visit for the Roundtable Report on the Access of Plan B as an Over the Counter (OTIC) Within Indian Health Service.

Chloe Haimson, a recent graduate of Princeton University, lives in New York City. This piece is the first in a series she is working on funded by Native American Public Telecommunications. The series, Sovereign Bodies, focuses on Native women reproductive health issues and is being produced in conjunction with the documentary film Young Lakota, airing on PBS Independent Lens in November 2013 as part of the Women and Girls Lead initiative.

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stevef's picture
Submitted by stevef on
I am rather disgusted by this article. I hate the title. '...reproductive justice...'. I don't really have a problem with Plan B for Rape. But, we start giving it out at our IHS/Tribal Health Centers and will it ONLY go for cases of rape? If you answer yes, you are either exceptionally Naive or worse. This ring to the jokes I recall hearing when I was growing up: 'I brought you into this world, .... I can take you out of this world!' 'Womens Justice'? Where is the Justice for the unborn? Once again, I ask the age old question, what has one of the core statements that I hear from a great many tribes that we are suppose to think of seven generations, ....our children are our future, children are our #1 asset, etc, etc.....until the little brats get in the way of what I, me, myself wants/needs! I am ENTITLED after all! That child...they are only entitled to WHAT I say they can have? So, who is the Brat now Chloe? Where are the rights of the child? Are all those great native statements just great tag lines, when they aren't superseded by MY wants and needs? I don't like the Plan B in the first place, but there is a lot in life I do not like, but the attitude that the tax payers need to flip the bill for 'every woman 17 years of age or older' is to the point of my humble opinion! Then, your 'real life' talking points? A woman raped, broke, 50 miles from the nearest town... Why don't you get real? I am 53 years old, I was a cop for most of those and threw a ton of bums in jail for everything including rape. I have yet to even hear about one that didn't have a mother, brother, girlfriend, or even the cop that would have ran them into town to the pharmacy! Somewhere around 3 out of 4 don't even get reported to the cops, so lets take the cop out of the equation.....the ONLY thing that can help is the IHS/Tribal Health center giving out free, ENTITLED Plan B? Who needs a touch of reality now? Steve

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
why not have sex? and if rape happens is it the babies fault? Everyone blames the other one. Good grief stop having sex infill you are on both controlled.