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 MIDNIGHT TONIGHT — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!
When we first interviewed Rep. Lela Alston two years ago, she’d made both reproductive justice and educational reform key issues of her campaign. Now, as she seeks her third term in office, representing the part of Phoenix that is Legislative District 24, her commitment to those issues has not wavered.
Ms. Alston was gracious enough to take the time for a telephone interview, transcribed below, on July 23, 2014.
“It’s wrong for lawmakers to be making medical decisions for people that they don’t even know.”
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, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?
Well, I think what’s happened over the last couple of years is a breakthrough in the relationships between and across party lines. I spent some time in the Senate, way back when, and now I’ve served four years in the House. My first term, back in 2010, was very partisan in nature; there was not much working across the aisle. And, what has happened in the last two years, because of the issues that have come up and the circumstances, there has been a lot of bipartisan interaction and results. For example, we got the expansion of Medicaid passed; we killed bad bills like [SB] 1062. So all of those are hopeful signs to me.
That does strengthen my convictions about participation by individuals in the process. I see more people stepping up, being involved. When I see this, it’s not hopeless.
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?
I think that’s very easily explained, due to the past behavior of those people who opposed an individual’s right to choose. By that, I mean their behavior in the past has been to picket medical facilities, harass women who are perhaps alone or nearly alone, going in for advice or procedures or whatever. The harassment has been horrible. That all fits together with the inspections issue. That bill was particularly concerning because it let anybody who had almost any kind of enforcement background at all be able to say it was OK to go in.
We do have ways — currently, before this bill even came up — for inspections of medical facilities of that nature. But they had to get a warrant, and that is to ensure patient privacy. If someone can just go in unannounced, it opens the door for a woman to be more hesitant and fearful, and less likely to seek the medical attention or treatment that she needs.
This is just a quick follow up question so I can clarify. HB 2284 now treats abortion care facilities differently than other medical facilities in terms of inspections?
No, I don’t think it does treat them differently. But — I think it was the 9th Circuit — one of the courts made the argument for abortion facilities having the need for greater privacy and having greater privacy concerns than your standard doctor’s office, hospital, that sort of thing. Because of the behavior of people who are the pro-lifers. And the court has said heightened privacy is legitimate in this case.
In June, an appeals court affirmed the right to perform medication abortions up to nine weeks in accordance with an evidence-based protocol, when the state legislature wanted abortion providers to use a more restrictive, outdated method. Why is it important that politicians leave the practice of medicine to doctors?
Well, I think this is a prime example of how a state legislature, who wants to do everything they can to inhibit women’s right to choose, has put obstacles in the way so that women would be less able, legally, to receive an abortion. One of the things they wanted to do is to use the FDA protocol, which is outdated, in the administration of abortion drugs. New information has come about in how those drugs are to be used and administered. The Arizona lawmakers were trying to enforce an old protocol that was more risky for women, less effective, and unnecessary. You get a better result doing a different medical protocol.
Lawmakers aren’t doctors. They just have no business making law when it should be left to the practice of medicine. It’s wrong for lawmakers to be making medical decisions for people who they don’t even know. Those are decisions that should be made by a woman and with whoever she chooses to share that information. Reproductive choice is the ultimate need for privacy. And there are so many circumstances where women have this need — whether for birth control, medical information — it’s really nobody’s business, any stranger’s business
Hopefully, if it’s a young woman, they will have a supportive family. But not always is that the case. It can be the family who’s the problem. Maybe the young woman is being abused by a stepfather, for example. Where do you go with that? If she has a supportive family, then that’s who she needs to be making decisions with. But ultimately, she and her doctor have to make that decision. And it’s horrible that we’re putting these impediments in the way of freedom.
There are all these people who support “freedom,” except when it’s an issue that they don’t agree with.
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?
I serve on a school board, and I was a high school teacher for 34 years, and I know that when young women become pregnant in high school, they are much more likely to drop out. And they have a much more difficult time completing their education. Many of the students I have worked with have been trying to raise their own kids, trying to raise their siblings, trying to raise their parents — because the parents are not very supportive or able for whatever reason to be taking care of them — and it just puts an outrageous burden and strain that many kids can’t handle. They have a child: their opportunities — for going to school, for getting child care — the barriers increase multiple-fold, in having a child to take care of and trying to complete their high school education, and — in most cases — try to earn a living also.
In Legislative District 24, all three Democratic House candidates have received PPAA’s endorsement, and all three have indicated that jobs and the economy are legislative priorities. Can you explain the connection for you? How does access to sexual and reproductive health care, like that provided by Planned Parenthood, support economic development?
It goes back to the previous question. If women have control of their own bodies, they can make their choices about when they want to have a child, when it’s economically wise for them to have a child. They can establish themselves in careers; they can finish college. They can perhaps finish post-secondary certificates or degrees so that once they’re out of high school, if they don’t have that — burden, if you will — of having to take care of a child, they’re much more likely to finish.
In Arizona, we are facing a shortage of highly qualified employees for our many wonderful industries that we’re bringing into the state — in the biotech industry, in the technology industry. We need those young people to be educated and ready to take those jobs. And if they are staying home raising kids, they’re not gaining the skills that they need to be functioning people in the economy. Beyond that, they become a burden in many cases — on the welfare system, on the Child Protective Services system. Everybody’s better off if all of our kids can achieve to their highest potential.