South Dakota abortion heroines

A doctor and Native American leaders step up to make abortion available despite the looming ban.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards
April 5, 2006 1:30AM (UTC)
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Here's a Broadsheet booyah to two women who are making big personal sacrifices to provide abortions in South Dakota.

Yesterday CNN profiled Dr. Miriam McCreary, a 70-year-old grandmother who, along with three other doctors, twice a month hops a plane from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls to perform abortions in one of the last clinics in the state where the procedure is available. Apparently, no doctors in the state will do them.


"I want every child that's born to be born into a family that wants a child," McCreary tells CNN. "I don't want children to be born into a family where they are not wanted and can't be cared for carefully. That's the tragedy ... And if I wasn't here to do it, you know, maybe no one else would." But come summer, McCreary and her colleagues could be charged with felonies -- if the new law forbidding abortions goes into effect.

Should that happen, the support of Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman president of the Oglala Sioux tribe of South Dakota, will become even more critical. Not long ago, Broadsheet wrote about Fire Thunder's plans to set up a Planned Parenthood clinic on Indian land. More recently, the Sioux leader told AlterNet's Rose Aguilar about the challenges facing her constituents. More than half of Native American women are poor, with a life expectancy rate of 55. And their chance of getting raped is three and a half times higher than the national average; in the rest of the country, a women has a one in six chance of being sexually assaulted or raped.

So Fire Thunder has started a new coalition called South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, which plans to collect nearly 17,000 signatures to make the ban an issue in the November election. If that fails, she plans to offer abortions to all South Dakotan women who can't travel to the one clinic where Dr. McCreary practices. She doesn't know where her funding will come from but says she's confident supporters will come forward.


Fire Thunder says abortion is just the beginning of her fight because she's worried that fundamentalist supporters of the abortion ban will take up birth control next. "Ultimately, this is a much bigger issue than just abortion," she tells Aguilar. "The women of America should be outraged that policies and decisions about their bodies are being made by male politicians and clergy. It's time for women to reclaim their bodies."

Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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