ACLU lawsuit seeks information on pregnancy care

Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) September 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union said last week that it filed a federal lawsuit against the Indian Health Service to obtain information about whether pregnant women on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation are being pressured to have labor induced against their wishes.

Robert Doody, executive director of the ACLU of South Dakota, said there is no obstetric care available on the reservation and many women are being told they must have their labor induced on a particular day without being given information about the risks and benefits of induction.

For nearly a decade, women on the Cheyenne River reservation have had to travel at least 90 miles to St. Mary’s Healthcare Center in Pierre to have their babies, he said.

“There is no opportunity to give natural birth on the Cheyenne River reservation,” Doody said last week. “They have to go to St. Mary’s and be induced, or they have to face the possibility of severe complications.”

National IHS spokesman Thomas Sweeney said recently that he could not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after the IHS failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests the ACLU filed in November seeking documents about forced inductions, Doody said.

The ACLU began looking into the issue of forced inductions in March 2009 after hearing stories from 10 to 15 women, Doody said.

“This has been going on for 10 years,” he said. “It’s been the practice and custom. We don’t know if it’s a written policy or not.”

As part of treaties signed by the Sioux Nation in the late 1800s, the federal government agreed to provide medical care on Native American reservations. The government-run IHS runs hospitals and clinics on most reservations. Critics long have complained of insufficient financial support that has led to constant turnover among doctors and nurses, understaffed hospitals, sparse specialty care and long waits to see a doctor.