Palin And Alaska Native Women

Created: September 04, 2008 20:54 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Blogging off my beat for a minute, I wanted to add a few points to the Gov. Sarah Palin discussion. We’re hearing a lot about Palin as the “glass-ceiling-shattering” nominee, meant to soak up votes of women who supported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — and just as much about how she’s unlikely to succeed in doing so.

Reports are saying that Palin’s stands on issues of abortion and sex education may be attracting evangelical voters and perhaps scaring off Clinton supporters. What we haven’t heard much about, though, is how her positions on women’s health have played out in Palin’s home state.

Alaska’s population is 15.4 percent Alaska Native or Native American — the largest percentage of any U.S. state. That’s relevant to a discussion on women’s issues for a few big reasons. The rate of rape and sexual assault among Indian women is 3.5 times higher than among women of any other racial group in America. In addition, sexual assault victims in Indian country frequently lack access to basic health resources, including rape kits and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

This is especially true in Alaska and other rural areas. In some parts of Alaska, rape victims have to travel for days just to reach an Indian Health Service clinic, according to human-rights reports by Amnesty International. And many Indian Health Service clinics have no trained staff members who can provide physical and mental health resources for victims. (You can read about one Alaskan woman’s story — and the stories of other Indian women — in a piece I wrote last year.)

Palin opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Roughly 25 percent of rapes result in unwanted pregnancies.

Alaska Native women already face discrimination when it comes to their right to choose. Thanks to the Hyde amendment, the Indian Health Service can’t use federal money to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest against a minor or when the mother’s life is at risk.

In an interview last year, Charon Asetoyer, the director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resources Center, had this to say about the Hyde amendment: “We’re the only race in the country that is denied access to abortion merely because of our race.”

Palin’ support of such legislation — and her stands on reproductive health in general — shows she might well be out of step with a large percentage of the women of her own state. We’ll have to wait and see how women across the country respond to her.