Tribal abortion ban resolution questioned

Belcourt, North Dakota (AP) 11-08

Questions are being raised about a Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa resolution banning abortions on tribal land. One tribal member says it was not legally adopted.

“We had no published agenda, no three-day notice. It’s a clear violation of the tribal constitution,” said tribal member Andy Laverdure, who is known as watchdog for tribal resolutions.

“If someone wants to propose or suggest a resolution of this type, it’s got to be done in open session,” Laverdure said. “It needs to be transparent, on the council’s meeting agenda, so anybody who may want to discuss the issue can do so.”

Laverdure also said the resolution runs counter to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted abortion rights.

“It’s more or less forcing a religious preference on tribal members,” he said. “That’s really difficult to talk about. We do have a large Christian population, but we also have other people on our reservation that have different beliefs.”

Harlene Davis, of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Turtle Mountain Agency office, said the office had no signed copy of the resolution late October.

“If it requires bureau approval, it’s supposed to come within 10 days,” she said.

Davis said the BIA office would have to check the resolution against federal law, and she was not sure if it would need bureau approval.

“If it doesn’t, if it’s law or not, I’m not sure,” she said. “The first time I saw this, it was in the (local newspaper). What if someone is found guilty? There’s no fines, no conditions. And then, they’re guilty of what?”

The resolution was adopted by four tribal council members Sept. 17, the Grand Forks Herald reported, saying it got a copy of the resolution from the tribal headquarters.


The resolution says that “absolutely under no circumstances will abortions be performed and allowed within any private or public facility within the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and other lands under the jurisdiction of the tribe.”

The resolution also says: “the Governing Body faithfully believes that life is sacred and begins at the moment of conception between a man and a woman and life to (sic) protected at all levels affirming natural law and reasoning;” and says “pro-life is a universal issue of common sense, moral righteousness for the common good of life.”

Tribal Chairman David “Doc” Brien, who proposed the resolution, did not vote. The chairman votes only in the case of a tie.

Tribal councilman Ted Henry, who signed the resolution, referred questions to Brien, who did not return requests for an interview.

Besides the Turtle Mountain reservation, the resolution would affect the community of Trenton, on tribal trust land in northwestern North Dakota.

Belcourt has only one hospital and clinic: the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Health Facility, which is run by Indian Health Services.

“In recent years, no abortions of any kind have been performed” there, said Ray Grandbois, associate area director of IHS in Aberdeen, S.D., in an e-mail to the Grand Forks Herald.

Grandbois said he could not say how the abortion resolution might affect the IHS facility in Belcourt. He said the IHS office had not received a copy of it from the tribe.

In general, the IHS is required to follow federal law, and federal facilities are not subject to tribal resolutions, Grandbois said. But the IHS also tries to accommodate tribal council resolutions when possible, he said.