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Tribal Leader Ousted Over Abortion Clinic

By Carson Walker, The Washington Post, June 30, 2006

PORCUPINE, S.D. -- A Sioux tribe ousted its president for proposing an abortion clinic on the reservation, which would be beyond the reach of South Dakota's strict new abortion ban.

By a 9-5 vote late Thursday, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council determined Cecelia Fire Thunder had pursued the clinic for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation without council approval, and she was immediately replaced.

"The bottom line is the Lakota people were adamantly opposed to abortion on our homelands. The president was involved in unauthorized political actions," said Will Peters, the council member who filed the complaint.

Fire Thunder said the council did not handle the action properly and promised to challenge it.

"It's not about abortion. A lot of them have personal stuff toward me," said Fire Thunder, who had survived two earlier attempts to remove her from office since becoming the tribe's first female president in 2004.

Fire Thunder began proposing a clinic in March, shortly after Gov. Mike Rounds signed one of the toughest abortion laws in the country. It bans abortion in almost all cases and does not include exceptions for rape or incest. The council suspended Fire Thunder in May and also voted to ban abortions on the reservation.

She once worked part-time at a Planned Parenthood clinic in California that performed abortions and said her support for a clinic comes from concern for girls and women who are victims of rape and incest.

"We have a lot of 14- and 15-year-olds getting pregnant, and it did not happen by strangers," she told the council.

Peters said that under Lakota values, abortion is wrong and life is sacred.

Fire Thunder was replaced by Alex White Plume.

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