Meet Our Candidates: Steve Weichert for State Senator, LD 17

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

steve-weichertThe 17th legislative district hangs just southeast of Phoenix, covering the greater part of Chandler, western Gilbert, and Sun Lakes. It is currently represented in the Arizona Senate by Steven Yarbrough, who has a history of opposing reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. LD 17 needs better representation, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona endorses Steve Weichert, who will fight for improved education and health-care access — including comprehensive sex education and access to family planning services.


“Women can count on me to protect their health care and reproductive rights.”


In 2003, Mr. Weichert moved to Chandler, where his family has put down permanent roots. He and his wife are raising two school-age daughters, so he knows first-hand just how crucial quality education is. He points to the importance of attracting and retaining talented teachers and attaining smaller classroom sizes. As such, a key component of his platform is improving education funding in Arizona, and, as he tells us in today’s interview, he believes comprehensive sex education is an integral aspect of a student’s overall education.

Just as Arizona needs to be able to hold onto good K-12 teachers, Mr. Weichert knows how vital it is to retain a vibrant population of physicians and other health-care providers. As a health-care administrator, he has a front-row seat to Arizona’s shortage of health-care providers. While the University of Arizona College of Medicine provides affordable education, Mr. Weichert says Arizona loses its investment when its graduates are lured out of state by better salaries and benefits. And, as an employee of Gila River Health Care, serving the Gila River Indian Community, Mr. Weichert sees the importance of expanding health care access to historically under-served populations.

According to the Center for Arizona Policy’s 2016 candidate questionnaire, LD 17’s current senator, Steven Yarbrough, is in favor of strict prohibitions on Arizonans’ access to abortion; he is also opposed to recognizing individuals’ gender identity and including the LGBTQ community in nondiscrimination laws. In 2014, Sen. Yarbrough helped propel Arizona to national headlines when he sponsored SB 1062, which would have given businesses the right to refuse service to LGBTQ customers. He sponsored a similar bill the year before — but both that bill and SB 1062 were vetoed by then-governor Jan Brewer.

We need lawmakers who prioritize issues that have a direct impact on Arizonans’ quality of life — and Steve Weichert will focus on quality education and health-care access, without wasting time introducing fear-based bills like SB 1062 that solve no problems. Mr. Weichert generously took the time to answer our questions on September 18, 2016. Continue reading

One Simple Kit

A community health worker teaches how to make cloth pads. Photo: Nyaya Health

A community health worker teaches how to make cloth pads. Photo: Nyaya Health

Last week, I texted a friend of mine and told her: I have a hard choice before me. When she asked what that was, I smiled as I replied: I must choose between replenishing the MAC mascara that I just ran out of and buying the new Harry Potter book. We both laughed. But really, even as a single mom who falls beneath the poverty level, this was my choice of the day.

I have known hard times. I have lived in my car with my two dogs and I have had to volunteer my time cleaning my son’s school to ensure that he gets an education because I couldn’t afford the monthly tuition. I have taken hits by the ones I love, both physical and metaphorical, and I have had my innocence stolen from me by a boy I hardly knew.


One simple kit is combating poverty, hunger, and gender inequality.


Yet somewhere across a sea, a young girl sits in her room, blood gushing from her for reasons unbeknownst to her. Fear brings tears to her eyes as she struggles to understand why God has cursed her. That is what her mother has taught her. That if such a thing occurs, it is a curse from her creator for being a filthy creature. A girl her age tells her that she has contracted a disease, something she couldn’t remember the three letters to reference, but she knew was deadly.

In a rural region in southern Malawi, a girl who has had her first period may be expected to undergo a “sexual cleansing” ritual, in which she is made to have unprotected sex with a man called a hyena — a risky proposition in a country in which nearly 1 in 10 adults has HIV. Her choice to deny such an offer could result in her entire family being stricken ill or even dead — at least that is what she is told. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Brandon Dwyer for State Representative, LD 15

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

brandondwyer-scaledBrandon Dwyer is running for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 15. LD 15 covers the northwest, north, and northeast areas of Phoenix and has approximately 133,019 registered voters. Mr. Dwyer would like to see Arizona level the playing field for all citizens with regard to education. He believes in equal access for all regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, ancestry, age, veteran status, disability, or military service.


“The state should not be between me and my doctor.”


Mr. Dwyer generously shared time with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona through an in-person interview on September 10, 2016, to discuss his background and his campaign.

Tell us a little about your background.

I lived in Oregon for 26 years before moving to Phoenix in 2005 to attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. After I graduated, I moved to Texas, where I lived and worked for 10 years. I missed Phoenix, so I made the decision to move back and make Arizona my home.  I became actively involved in politics as a member of Democracy for America. I was a precinct committeeman for four years and served as the legislative district committee chair for LD 15 from 2014 until early this year, when I decided to run for office. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Mitzi Epstein for State Representative, LD 18

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

mitziepstein-scaledMitzi Epstein is running for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 18. LD 18 includes all of Ahwatukee, parts of west Chandler, south Tempe, and west Mesa. Ms. Epstein is a small business owner, former state Parent Teacher Association leader, and American Youth Soccer Organization leader. As a community problem solver, she has spent her life working at both the community and state level to strengthen the economy.


“We need updated, comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate health and sex education curriculum that is inclusive of all.”


Ms. Epstein generously shared time with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona via telephone on September 9, 2016, to discuss her background and her campaign.

Tell us a little about your background.

Professionally, for many years I was a computer systems analyst and team leader for multinational corporations such as Olin Brass, Inc., Citicorp Mortgage Inc., and Aerovox Corporation. I now own my own small business called Custom Language Training. In 2004, I was elected to the Kyrene Elementary School District Governing Board where I served for four years.

Personally, I have been married for 33 years. We have lived in our home for 20 years now, and have two adult sons who live in Boston and New York. I am passionate about the community, working collaboratively to improve our quality of life. I have served on the boards of several community organizations including AYSO, American Youth Soccer Organization. To be the best coach I could be, I worked to earn a National D Coaching license from USSF. To be the best school board member I could be, I earned a Master of Boardsmanship from ASBA, the Arizona School Boards Association. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Betts Putnam-Hidalgo for Tucson Unified School Board

The Arizona general election will be held on November 8, 2016. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the election, you must register to vote by October 10 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2016!

betts-putnam-hidalgo-scaledBetts Putnam-Hidalgo, a lifelong social activist and a fixture at Tucson Unified School District Governing Board meetings, is running for the board for the third time. The at-large position is nonpartisan.

The retired landscaper studied at the University of Arizona and at New Mexico University. Her family, which includes several enormous dogs, lives in a historic downtown Tucson neighborhood.

In its 2014 endorsement of her, the Arizona Daily Star said that the system badly needed new leadership, and that Putnam-Hidalgo “best” understood “the complex issues facing TUSD. The board must make tough decisions to focus a district that has lost about 13,000 students in the last 12 years.” The paper noted that despite her loss two years earlier, Putnam-Hidalgo

still kept up her regular attendance at board meetings. She’s also been actively involved in school site councils, served as a community representative and taught English as a second language to parents.

She speaks with enthusiasm of participating in parent leadership training through Voices for Education as a starting point for her advocacy. Her positions include supporting an internal auditor, reducing kindergarten through third-grade class sizes to 18 and making schools a neighborhood hub for social services as well as education.

A board adversary on one issue may be an ally on the next, she says, indicating she will not vote with a bloc on the board [and] … she’d ensure the authority line clearly reflects that “the superintendent works for the board.”

These same points are in her platform today. In addition to increased honesty and transparency in the district, she is calling for an end to abusively high administrative costs and low classroom funding. She will not support enormous compensation packages for the superintendent or other administrators while TUSD teachers and staff are among the lowest paid across surrounding districts. She notes that with the current pay structure, “the further one is from the students, the more compensation one receives. This is backwards and dangerous.”


“When it comes to avoiding teen pregnancy and having healthy relationships, ignorance is dangerous.”


The native New Yorker came to Arizona in the 1970s and came to her interest in TUSD through her son, now 16. She was 45 when he was born, already stepmother to two boys.

“When we lived in New Mexico, before my own son was born, the military recruiters started to call for my stepsons. I could not get them to stop. That was when I knew there was activism to be done in the schools,” Putnam-Hidalgo told us in an August 26, 2016, phone interview, during which she answered the following questions.

TUSD recently voted to include comprehensive sexuality education in its classrooms. What would you like this new curriculum to look like?

I’m really excited about it being a whole lot more than just name-the-body-parts. From what I understood from a number of high school students, they want [information about] how emotions and sexual contact intersect … I had that at a private school in the eighth grade: how sexual activity was nothing to be ashamed of and should be fun. We made fun of the teacher at the time but I now realize she was a revolutionary! Continue reading

Are There Any Survivors in the Room? A Story for Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month

female-dr-comforting-patient“Are there any survivors in the room?”

I don’t remember why I was there, but it was a discussion of cancer. I looked around at the people who had raised their hands. It wasn’t until the speaker moved on that I realized I was a cancer survivor, too.

Does that seem strange? But my first cancer in 2004 was so ambiguous. I had had a routine Pap test, and was referred to a gynecologist. I had had problematic Pap tests before, and it had usually meant I had a uterine polyp or a vaginal infection. This time it was not simple dysplasia. It seems I had precancerous cells, and the recommended treatment was a hysterectomy. I thought about it, and my sister discussed it with a friend who was also a gynecologist, and reported back that surgery was indeed the treatment of choice.


How was I supposed to relate to a cancer diagnosis that was made only after the cancer was out of my body?


I was over 50, and had pretty much gone through menopause, though once or twice a year I would have some bleeding. Everything about my reproductive system was ambiguous. I had started menstruating at age 9, along with the body changes of puberty, but seldom had my periods. When I was 18 and starting to move beyond my circumscribed Jewish Bronx upbringing, I was diagnosed with Stein-Leventhal syndrome. Great, I thought, I finally get a diagnosis, and it’s Jewish! Since that time, the condition has been renamed polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a risk factor for many other diseases, including endometrial cancer.

But let’s get back to the hysterectomy. I had already decided that I would have the surgery when my sister got back to me. What had my uterus done for me lately, anyway? I had the doctors make the arrangements, met with the surgeon, and went through all the pre-surgery rigmarole. I made plans to stay with a friend for about a week after surgery, and checked into the hospital. When I woke up afterward, I was told that the biopsy that was done during surgery had been negative. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus

Zika

Zika virus. Image: Cynthia Goldsmith, CDC

I first heard of Zika virus in an epidemiology class, when another student made on offhand remark: “Did you know Zika virus can be transmitted sexually?” Ever vigilant for material for the STD Awareness column, I excitedly scribbled the name of the virus in my notes. But upon further investigation, I found that there were only a couple of documented cases of the sexual transmission of this virus that no one had heard of, and decided there was no reason to freak people out about yet another potential STD when rates of more common STDs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, were on the upswing.

A year later, Zika virus was splashed across headlines on a daily basis, mostly for its newfound association with birth defects, but also in light of revelations that it could be transmitted by sex.


Access to condoms and reliable contraception is more vital than ever.


While Zika virus is usually transmitted by mosquito bites, the discovery that it can be sexually transmitted made it the only known virus that could be spread both sexually and by mosquitoes. It’s also the only known mosquito-borne virus that can cross the placenta to harm a fetus. Like several other viruses, including CMV and rubella, Zika is implicated in serious birth defects. But many health authorities worry that its potential as a sexually transmitted pathogen is dangerously underestimated. As of August 31, there have been 23 confirmed sexually transmitted cases of Zika virus in the United States — but sexual transmission will rise as the virus jumps into local mosquitoes, which will also make it difficult or impossible to tell if a sexually active Zika patient got the virus from sex or directly from a mosquito.

Earlier this year, sexually transmitted Zika virus in Texas made headlines, with many journalists incorrectly proclaiming it the first known case of sexual transmission. In fact, Zika’s sexual transmission was first documented in 2008, before “Zika” was a household name and the married couple who published their experience in a scientific paper thought they could share their STD status in relative obscurity. Despite referring to themselves as “Patient 1” and “Patient 3,” a science reporter quickly figured it out and (with their permission) revealed their identities in a 2011 article — still years before Zika-bearing mosquitoes would hit the Americas and trigger a microcephaly epidemic that propelled the virus to infamy. Continue reading