Meet Our Candidates: Charlene Fernandez for State Representative, LD 4

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 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 general election, you must register to vote by midnight tonight — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!

[L]egislative District 4 stretches west to include parts of Yuma, north to Buckeye, east to the San Xavier Reservation near Tucson, and south to the U.S.-Mexico border. As she seeks to represent this district in the Arizona House of Representatives, Charlene Fernandez plans to make health care — along with education, economic development, and agriculture — a key issue in her campaign.

She was kind enough to take the time for an interview on September 24, 2014.

“We’ve seen our legislature repeatedly try to pass laws pressuring women into making health decisions that align with a certain ideology.”

Tell us a little about your background.

Born in Yuma, my roots in our community run deep. I served as a board member for the Yuma Community Foundation, the United Way of Yuma County and the Cultural Council of Yuma, as well as a San Luis Community Fund committee member. And I worked hand in hand with rural communities at the state Department of Environmental Quality as an appointee of Gov. Janet Napolitano.

I am a life-long Democrat and advocate for choice and progressive values. I was elected to the second-highest position in the Arizona Democratic Party, and was elected to many leadership roles in the Yuma County Democratic Party. My husband Sergio and I have three children, two grandchildren, and live in Yuma.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed HB 2284, which permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. What do you think about this new law?

HB 2284 is an egregious violation of patient privacy and amounts to harassment. I am against this bill and any bill designed to restrict a woman’s health care options.

In contrast to bills like HB 2284, what kind of beneficial legislation would you like to see introduced, and why do you think it is important to fight for it?

Women in rural Arizona do not have nearly enough access to health care. Yuma, the largest city in my district, has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. We need to be educating these young women about their health care options and making sure that care is accessible. I would fight to make that a reality.

Particularly in light of recent legislative restrictions on abortion access — including nurse practitioners, telemedicine, and abortion service availability — what can you tell us about more rural Arizonans’ family planning access and needs? What do we need to understand — and to do better?

Women in rural areas of Arizona tend to be under-served and the hardest hit during an economic downturn. But even when our economy is strong, women from rural areas are often at a disadvantage when seeking necessary medical attention. Family planning clinics are often their only health care provider and unfortunately those clinics are not located in rural areas due to funding issues.

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? Do you support comprehensive sex education?

There is most definitely a direct correlation between teenage pregnancy and the high drop out rate in our schools — and that’s why I support comprehensive sex education. Unfortunately, we’ve seen our legislature target those most likely to become teenage parents rather than provide the resources to either provide comprehensive sex education or ensure they are able to get an education after they have a child.

There was a program at one local high school in Yuma County, which I thought was quite progressive for its time. Childcare was provided at the school and parenting classes for both the young father and young mother as well as nutrition classes were all offered during a normal school day. The young parent attended regular classes and reported to the program for additional classes. The wonderful part of this whole program was that our student-parents were graduating on time and their children were well-cared for. This program closed for lack of funding and because of the perception that this program “glorified teenage parents.”

Why do you think it’s important that people make their own health care decisions?

We’ve seen our legislature repeatedly try to pass laws pressuring women into making health decisions that align with a certain ideology, but may not be in the best interest of the woman. Nobody should have a say in a woman’s health choices other than the individual woman and her doctor. Involving anybody else — especially politicians — in that decision only leads to bad health outcomes.

If you’re interested in learning more about Charlene Fernandez’s campaign, including more detailed positions on issues and other endorsements, you can do so via her campaign website. You can also stay updated via Facebook, and Twitter.

If you don’t know what legislative district you’re in, you can click here to find out! You can also contact us if you’d like to volunteer for an endorsed candidate in your legislative district.