Cecelia Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux Nation, has started an uprising. In an effort to build a clinic that would provide abortion to the women of South Dakota, Fire Thunder not only is taking on one nation, but two.
I have never met her. Still, she reminds me a lot of the women I met while working at a reproductive health care center.
Strong. Courageous. Determined.
Today, Fire Thunder faces impeachment — as a result of her plans to provide reproductive health care to women. While her plan all along, it was her public response to legislation banning abortion in the state that created the much publicized thundery-fire-storm. Because Pine Ridge is under federal jurisdiction and not state, her plan could include abortion services.
However, as Women e-News reports, Fire Thunder "didn't anticipate the strength of the anti-abortion sentiment on the reservation. Members of Reservation churches marched against her; others called for her ouster and for an abortion ban as strict as the state's."
Still, she did not back down. Just as the women I met who passed through throngs of bullying and shouting protesters strengthened their resolve, so has Fire Thunder. She states, "We're in the middle of a quiet revolution in Pine Ridge. And it's awful painful."
Last May, hundreds of tribal members attending a council meeting called for her removal as the Nation's president. "A reservation newspaper captured the mood with a headline: ‘Wilma Mankiller, Cecelia Babykiller.'"
Despite her absence, the meeting proceeded. A ban on abortion was passed and Fire Thunder was suspended pending today's impeachment hearing on the grounds that "she solicited donations on behalf of the tribe for a proposed abortion clinic without the council's approval."
What strikes me here is neither the politics, nor the clash of sacred cultural beliefs. What I am struck by is the constant notion that banning abortion will stop abortion. To the same end, I am curious why there is a confidence that with the impeachment of Fire Thunder comes the end of what she — and many other women of the Oglala Sioux Nation — have begun.
If Fire Thunder is impeached and if no reproductive health center is built, women will still face unintended pregnancies and some will go to desperate lengths to obtain an abortion. However, if Fire Thunder's vision is allowed to become a reality — a health center providing pregnancy prevention, education, cancer screenings, STD testing along with abortions — not only will women of the reservation benefit, but the women and families of South Dakota and elsewhere in this country will as well.