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Following scant debate, the Senate last week approved an amendment to an Indian health care bill that would permanently prohibit the use of federal dollars to fund abortions for Native Americans except in rare cases. The move has prompted an outcry from women's health advocates — who point out that a similar ban has existed on a temporary basis for years — and from tribal groups, who are asking why Native American women should be subject to restrictions not applicable to other ethnic groups. Some charge that the Senate proposal is overtly racist.
The issue is a sensitive one in American Indian communities, where women are statistically more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault than other American women — but also where victims very rarely use the exceptions to the current federally funded abortion ban in the wake of those crimes. In the face of that discrepancy, advocates say, Congress should encourage victims to take advantage of the available services, not impose tighter restrictions.