“Now is the time to use your voice” – After Roe v. Wade for Indigenous women
Tara Pretends Eagle Weber is a Native American social worker and activist from Palm Beach County in Florida. Here she tells us how overturning Roe v. Wade will impact Indigenous women in the US.
NADJA: With the US midterms coming up, what is the significance of Kansas’ recent referendum outcome where people voted against the constitutional abortion amendment?
Tara Pretends Eagle Weber: Kansas is not traditionally Democrat, it is in the conservative bible belt. The Supreme Court ruling against Roe v. Wade is hugely unpopular, it has been forced down people’s throats. Being a social worker I see the problems this ruling creates, like women who experience botched abortions.
Ironically Kansas is where Operation Rescue is based. It is an anti-abortion organisation and is very religious, and Kansas has been the leading state against abortion. I also think it’s becoming not so much a Democrat-Republican issue, it’s a woman’s health issue. We can all relate to not wanting to be pregnant, or the fear of becoming pregnant.
NADJA: Can you tell me about your experience?
TPEW: I am a survivor of a sexual assault that resulted in a pregnancy. At 17 I made the choice to terminate it and that was always really important to me, because as a young teenager I had to make that choice. I’m so glad I had that choice because I was able to live with it, and myself, which a lot of women have a hard time with. Abortion is not the end-all solution where you walk out and everything’s gone. There is a mental and emotional toll too.
NADJA: If you hadn’t had the choice to have a termination at 17, how do you think that would have impacted your life?
TPEW: I would say it would have probably ruined it. I would have had to have a stranger’s baby as a result of a sexual assault when I was still under 18. I would have a 37-year-old child right now.
As a native adoptee, that has happened to some of my friends. It’s a very painful thing to do, and it’s a very personal thing. It was very traumatising and painful for me, but I am so glad that the law allowed this instead of having to risk my health.
It had an influence on me becoming a social worker as well as an activist in the pro-choice movement for more than 30 years. Even as a child I thought, why does a man have a say on my body? Why, even knowing that I’ve been sexually assaulted? It impacted my life so much that here I am at 53, screaming for the rights of young women because I don’t want them to ever face the question that you just asked me.
NADJA: How is this ruling going to impact Indigenous women in the states where it’s been passed?
TPEW: The majority of our reservations are in isolated areas, so getting to a town where there is proper healthcare is far away. The majority of these states, like South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana are all red conservative states. They’re huge, but the providers are at one end of the state and it’s an enormous expense to travel, so it was difficult enough. Now it’s going to be even harder.
One of the issues is with the Indian Child Welfare Act, placing children into native homes when they’ve been adopted or fostered. When I was adopted into a white family, this law was 10 years away so it didn’t impact me. I did this job on my reservation, placing children in homes within their extended Native American family. Now there will be more women having babies, and what do we do with them? We already have difficulty placing them. Nurses may have to do more outreach to get women who don’t want children on the pill. The welfare system is so broken in Indian country, and then you add the huge element of not having choice, which is a travesty.
A lot of the older people on the reservations are the ones taking the kids, and I couldn’t place four or five children with a 68-year-old couple. We have many babies who are addicted to alcohol or have foetal alcohol disorder, or come from a home where there is an abuser. It’s the same for women in lower income communities and for women of colour. I think white women will have easier access to reproductive care, but this will surely impact women across the board.
NADJA: What implications do you think overturning Roe vs Wade will have on other laws?
TPEW: Now they are talking about restricting access to contraceptives too. There is all this backstepping and there is so much hypocrisy. Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court judge despite the accusations against him, and he lied – he had told the female Republican senator he would vote for Roe v. Wade when he was being vetted. Justices are supposed to tell the truth.
People have been saying whatever they want and getting away with it for the last six years, and that’s really detrimental. But Roe v. Wade went too far. It has really woken up some of the people who were Trump supporters, because it impacts so much more than we realise.
NADJA: What has been happening in the pro-choice movement since the ruling?
TPEW: Our allies are more aware now than they were 50 years ago of our struggles. The women I know here in Palm Beach are incredible, they are already talking about getting funding for women to travel to healthcare providers, for drivers, airfare, hotels, and that type of thing.
Our legislature is Republican so we won’t get a state vote [like in Kansas], so this is a reasonable, temporary solution, and I think there’ll be a lot going on underground.
As an Indigenous woman I was honoured to open the last two pro-choice rallies here in West Palm Beach, the Women’s March and the Planned Parenthood rally. I asked the crowd how many of them were 60 and older and there was just an eruption. These women have been in this movement for 50 years, they’re the ones who have had friends die, or who know women who have died [because of botched abortions].
I started social work early enough to see the impact of positive change. I saw the desperate need for this type of healthcare in cases of sexual assault, and that’s just a small portion of what we need reproductive care for.
This is the time to use your voice as much as possible. Writing to your legislators and having rallies is really powerful. I still believe in contacting your legislators because they represent us. Even if they’re a Marjorie Taylor Greene, still write to her, woman to woman, call them out. This is about saving people’s lives.
Read Tara’s blog at Lakota Woman’s Voice