The Arizona primary election will be held on August 26, 2014. 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 primaries, you must register to vote by July 28 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!
Victoria Steele has represented Tucson’s Legislative District 9 in the Arizona House of Representatives since 2012, and is now running for reelection. To get an idea of why we’re so excited to support her, check out her recent op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star, in which she discusses how last month’s Supreme Court decisions might embolden foes of reproductive justice here in Arizona. We’re also proud to introduce you to her here!
We had a wonderful conversation on July 10 at Raging Sage in Tucson, where Ms. Steele talked to us about her accomplishments and goals; her commitment to abortion access and comprehensive sexuality education; and her Republican opponent, Ethan Orr, whose voting record on reproductive health is out of step with the views held by the majority of his constituency. While you can hope that Ethan Orr will vote in favor of women’s health, you can know that Victoria Steele and her fellow Democratic candidate Dr. Randall Friese will do so!
Read on to get to know Ms. Steele even better!
“It’ll be even harder to get our rights back if we’ve lost them all, so let’s not let that happen.”
Interviewer: I’m glad we get to meet in person this time! How has your commitment to serving Arizona grown over the past two years? On the policy level, what has happened during that time to give you hope?
Representative Steele: I was really excited to see that we were able to finally defeat SB 1062 [a bill that would have allowed discrimination on religious grounds, for example against LGBTQ people]. That gives me a lot of hope. The only reason that happened is because the community got mad. The governor’s veto came way too late as far as I’m concerned.
That was a very hopeful thing, because it showed what I really suspected was true, that a majority of the people do not feel that we have the right to discriminate. There is a very vocal minority that feels otherwise. To me, that is hopeful.
A poll of Arizona Republicans showed they were in favor of vetoing SB 1062. It just shows how quickly the tide is turning, which is pretty exciting to me.
It is. Another thing that gives me hope is that I personally have been effective as a legislator in my first two years in office, even as a freshman Democrat. I was able to get several pieces of legislation and funding for different things into the state budget. None of these have my name on them as being the main sponsor, but I figured out how to get them done. It involved me taking my name off of different pieces of legislation and working across the aisle, but I did what was necessary to create good public policy.
As a Democrat, as a freshman, to play a key part in getting multiple pieces of legislation passed, that gives me great hope, that we can make a difference.
I introduced legislation for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the extension of the deadline for Congress to be able to have the states ratify it. That deadline passed many years ago, and we want to have that deadline extended. So I put in two pieces of legislation, and neither one was given a hearing. I will do it again.
We’d like to ask you about your current seatmate, Ethan Orr. Some view him as a moderate —
— Given his positions on reproductive rights, do you believe that characterization is accurate?
No, absolutely, patently false. He is not a moderate; look at how he votes. He is adamantly anti-choice. He may be a good person, but look at how he votes. He is not a moderate. Look at how he’s voted on all the issues, especially issues regarding reproductive health. His votes are not moderate. The vast majority of his votes are with his GOP colleagues, and the Republicans in the Arizona Legislature are dead set against a woman’s right to privacy and to be able to make important life decisions about whether or when to become a parent. At best, my opponent won’t advocate for or protect women — at worst, he makes decisions that harm women.
With Dr. Randall Friese as your LD 9 seatmate next year, what further things would you like to accomplish at the Capitol to serve the interests of your constituents?
Randy’s great. With Ethan, you’ve got a nice guy who votes against women’s reproductive health. With Randy, you’ve got a nice guy who’s also a doctor, who will vote for women’s reproductive health. End of story.
Given the Supreme Court’s decision on Hobby Lobby, we’re already seeing Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy start to salivate around the possibility of bringing SB 1062 back. We also know that they’re going to come back with a vengeance with more and even worse restrictions and attacks on our reproductive health. They’re going to bring back some nasty stuff, and I’m prepared to fight it, every step of the way. Just one of the many reasons I want to be in office.
I fought for these things when I was 16, when I was in high school. It’s ridiculous that 41 years after Roe v. Wade we’re still fighting these battles. Let’s stop eroding women’s health rights, reproductive health, reproductive justice. It really is a matter of life and death.
Look at what’s happening, particularly in Texas, where women have so many miles in between available places where they can receive a medically safe abortion. What I fear is happening, is that women will find a way to have an abortion, one way or another, and we’re going to see more people die. We’re going to see more people become infertile because of their attempts at self-inducing an abortion. If we take away every medically safe option for women to make their own decisions, if we take away their access to birth control, if we take away their access to basic information and sex education, what are they left with?
Not a lot of options.
Not a lot. And none of them are safe. None of them are good. I believe that women are being backed into a corner these days. Many women have missed a pill or have had unprotected sex. Society is backing women into a corner, taking away their ability to prevent pregnancy and saying, “Don’t get pregnant. Oh, and by the way, if you do get pregnant, we’re not going to be there for you. We’re not going to help you, not now, and not for the next 18 years. You’re on your own. But don’t get pregnant.”
That’s what we’re telling them. And that’s not fair. That’s just wrong.
One thing they often say is that my generation doesn’t know what it was like in the days before Roe. I tell people, “Talk to your grandmother.” My grandmother grew up in a tiny little town and has told me about a girl she knew who almost died of a botched abortion. My own great-grandmother almost died, and she became infertile.
I don’t want women to have to experience what it was like back then. It’ll be even harder to get our rights back if we’ve lost them all, so let’s not let that happen.
It’s good to have historical perspective without having to be thrown into that situation.
Right; these are some things we don’t have to re-experience to understand. I’m using every bit of my knowledge and experience to present these issues to voters in a clearly understandable way so that they get it.
As a counselor, as a woman, I have heard many stories of incest and rape, and I was initially shocked to learn how prevalent these stories are.
They also speak to the importance of empowering minors to have access to reproductive health services, not just for birth control, but also so they can have a safe space where they can be referred to counseling, to law enforcement if necessary …
So that they have assistance, and perhaps reporting if they need to. Because back then, there weren’t places to go. There weren’t any professionals to talk to. There wasn’t any place where you could get a safe, legal abortion. Everything was done in a very sneaky way, and it was done under a cloud of shame, as though the woman was the only one involved. In fact, you would frequently hear, “She got herself pregnant.” Really? How does that work?
Last legislative session, you voted against HB 2284, which now permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. How do you explain to constituents the unique nature of abortion care and the need for heightened privacy and safety for patients?
This is a decision that politicians should not be weighing in on. The government should stay out of these decisions, but they are inserting themselves into it. There was one legislator this past year that said [of] this need for warrantless health clinic inspections, “It’s no different than a Burger King or a McDonald’s.”
But it is different than a Burger King or a McDonald’s, and let me tell you how it’s different. It’s different because there have been people who have been shot and killed and harassed at clinics all over the nation. That’s why the buffer zone Supreme Court ruling really is very disturbing to me. Women should not have to go through a gauntlet of harassment and terror.
Here in Arizona, we should not have to sit in a medical clinic, even a clinic where they perform abortion, and worry that at any minute someone’s going to come in and do an inspection. And that person may be very politically motivated in doing so. Where’s your privacy? Roe v. Wade is all about privacy. And that blows it out of the water. [HB 2284] takes your private, deeply personal medical decisions and puts them up for public view. A man going in for a vasectomy does not have to go through that.
A victory we had earlier this year was last month, when an appeals court affirmed the right to perform medication abortions in accordance with an evidence-based protocol, rather than the outdated method that had been put into law. Why is it important that politicians leave the practice of medicine to doctors?
We see what happens when it’s left up to politicians. They don’t have the education, the background, the experience to be making medical decisions. Those decisions should be left up to a doctor, a medical professional, not a politician. Not somebody who just wants to get reelected to a two-year position.
Arizona Mayors released a report stating that high school dropouts cost the state $7.6 billion over the course of their lifetime. What do you think about the connection between teenage pregnancy and high-school dropout rates? And of course there is the fact that we don’t currently require comprehensive sex education in this state.
All students should have medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education. It should include abstinence, but it should never be abstinence-only. We do our children a great disservice if we just say, “Just say no. Don’t do that. And if you do that you’re bad, you’re morally deficient in some way.” That’s so unfair to our kids, to tell them, “Just say no.” And then they end up in situations that they don’t know how to handle. Quite often, they will end up having an unwanted baby.
And society’s not going to take care of that baby. We’ve shown quite clearly how we don’t protect women, we don’t protect poor people. There is a strong correlation between poverty and teenage birth. We need to give our children the tools that they need to make good decisions, and that takes medically accurate information, that takes safe access to medical treatment, and, when necessary, that means access to abortion services. It’s a medical procedure.
I fought for sex education when I was 16 and got it. I can’t believe we are still doing this. It’s been four decades.
The vast majority of parents support comprehensive sex education, so again, it’s the vocal minority …
Right. If you want fewer abortions, then let’s prevent unwanted pregnancies! Don’t mess with birth control, don’t mess with sex education! Let’s give them the tools to prevent it!
I’m really hoping that we can inspire people to vote, especially in the primaries. Some of these races are really important.
What drives me crazy is every once in a while I’ll meet somebody who says, “I don’t even vote.” And they say it like they’re asserting themselves: “I don’t vote! I don’t get involved in politics.” And I think, “How horrible is that? You just gave away your power. You just surrendered.” You don’t have a right to complain then! If you don’t like what’s happening to women’s rights, you better get your butt out there and vote.
You’ve got to vote. Look at a candidate’s voting record and ask them the hard questions and then hold them to it.
It’s important to vote in the primary, too. There are critical issues at stake and I say, “Women will remember in November.” But we also have to remember on August 26. It’s a primary, and that’s when a lot of the decisions are made. If we lose pro-choice candidates because people don’t vote in the primary, then we don’t have any candidates that will support our views, and that would be sad. You gotta get out there and vote!
To learn more about Victoria Steele’s views about access to reproductive health care and comprehensive sex education, read the interview we conducted with her in 2012. Then head over to her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter!