Despite Legal Obligations, Over Half of Indian Health Services Facilities Reportedly Offer No Emergency Contraception

ACLU and Native American Community Board File Request for Information on Official Policies

February 26, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the Native American Community Board (NACB) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today with Indian Health Services (IHS) seeking information on policies governing access to emergency contraception at IHS facilities. The NACB reports that over half of IHS facilities do not offer any kind of emergency contraception despite laws requiring IHS provide "all necessary health care" to Native Americans. Only a small percentage of the facilities offer emergency contraception over-the-counter as mandated by FDA guidelines.

"A woman who gets her health care from IHS has the same right as anyone else to access the medication she needs to make her own decisions about whether and when to start a family," said Charon Asetoyer, CEO of the NACB. "By failing to ensure that IHS facilities adequately stock or provide emergency contraception, the federal government is not living up to its legal obligations to Native American women."

If used within 120 hours, emergency contraception can safely prevent pregnancy after contraceptive failure, unprotected sex or a sexual assault. It is most effective the sooner it is taken, with effectiveness decreasing every 12 hours.

However, a 2009 NACB report found that only 10 percent of IHS pharmacies made emergency contraception available over-the-counter, 37.5 percent of pharmacies only offered an alternative contraceptive that requires a prescription, and approximately 53 percent offered no form of emergency contraception at all.

For some Native American women, if emergency contraception is unavailable at their IHS facility, the next alternative may be hundreds of miles away. The distance and potentially insurmountable transportation costs make timely access to emergency contraception difficult, if not impossible, for many women.

In addition, statistics show that more than one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime -- more than double the rate reported by women of all other races. A woman who is sexually assaulted and relies on IHS may not be able to take necessary steps to prevent a pregnancy that occurs as the result of rape.

"In light of our country's long and unfortunate record of violating Indian women's reproductive rights and autonomy, these reports are particularly alarming," said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The federal government must explain what steps it is taking to ensure that the status quo does not continue."

The request can be viewed at www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/ihs-emergency-contraception-foia-request

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