The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting starts today! 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.” Make your voice heard in 2014!
[I]n his six years in the Arizona House of Representatives, Dr. Eric Meyer has worked to make education and health care access legislative priorities; in fact, he is now the ranking member of both the House Education and House Health committees. Last legislative session, he was part of a bipartisan effort to pass bills to stop sex trafficking and to aid victims of that trafficking. As he seeks to represent the Phoenix-area Legislative District 28 for one more term, he will continue to advocate for the needs of his constituents and all Arizonans.
Dr. Meyer was kind enough to take the time for an interview on October 1, 2014.
“Bills that legislate the practice of medicine put both patients and their health care providers at risk.”
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?
In the last two years I have worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass sensible legislation that improves the quality of life for all Arizonans and successfully fought to stop some, but not all, negative legislation. My hope is to return to the Capitol and use my skills to advance policy that will move Arizona forward.
Last legislative session, you voted against HB 2284, which now permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. What do you think about this new law? 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?
Warrantless inspections of abortion clinics were held unconstitutional prior to the passage of this legislation. The question of constitutionality was raised in relation to an Arizona-specific abortion licensing statute in 1999. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in Tucson Women’s Clinic v. Eden, held that warrantless inspections of abortion clinics are unconstitutional under the fourth Amendment because abortion clinics have a heightened expectation of privacy due to the hostility to the services being provided.
This is one of many examples of unconstitutional laws advanced in spite of imminent litigation, the cost of which is borne by our state’s taxpayers.
Our job is to protect the health and safety of Arizonans, not to obstruct it. There are many initiatives I have either sponsored or supported with that goal in mind. I have worked closely with the health care community to address primary care provider shortages that exists throughout the state, most acutely in rural and underserved areas. I support creative methods of addressing these shortages, such as increasing Graduate Medical Education slots to keep Arizona-trained physicians in the state, expanding the use of telemedicine, which would immediately open up access to primary and specialty care for both rural and urban patients, and restoring loan repayment assistance for physicians who practice in rural and underserved areas. Finally, I have sponsored several bills designed to enhance, rather than obstruct, the quality of women’s health care in the state, including reversing the harmful restrictions placed on women’s health care and regulating limited service pregnancy centers.
In June, an appeals court affirmed the right to perform medication abortions in accordance with an evidence-based protocol, when the state legislature wanted abortion providers to use an outdated method. As a physician, do you think there is a place for politicians to legislate best practices for health care providers?
This is one of many examples of legislation that prioritizes ideology over of the health of Arizonans. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down this law on grounds that no evidence was presented that the law advances in any way the interest of women’s health and that the protocol required by the law was “less safe, less effective.” Again, this is another example of a law advanced in spite of its imminent litigation.
Medical decisions must be made by a woman and her doctor, not by the legislature. Bills that legislate the practice of medicine put both patients and their health care providers at risk. Physicians are forced to decide whether to treat their patients according to best practices and their own best medical judgment, or according to state law. Arizona has some of the harshest criminal and civil penalties against physicians in the country, so if a physician does choose to follow their own medical judgment and best practices, they risk lawsuits, investigation by licensing boards, and even criminal convictions. These laws discourage physicians from practicing in the state, exacerbating our already acute physician shortage.
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?
There is a direct correlation between medically accurate comprehensive sexual education and a reduction in teen pregnancy rates. Similarly, there is a direct correlation between teen pregnancy and high dropout rates, which leads to poverty and translates to high costs to the state. Teenage moms are more likely to depend on public assistance. Both the parent and the child are more likely to be in poor health and to come into contact with correctional systems. Children of teenagers are more likely to become teenage parents themselves. The most fundamental, basic first step to breaking this cycle is to provide statewide comprehensive, medically accurate sexual education for all teenagers.
Teen pregnancy rates have fallen throughout the country, but the data varies by state, depending on the quality of sexual education in schools. Arizona ranks among the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country and is one of only three states that does not require sex education at all. Currently, the decision whether to offer sexual education and the curriculum to be offered is made by school governing boards and many teenagers are falling through the cracks. We must develop a thoughtful, statewide policy to address these issues.
In her response to the Center for Arizona Policy survey, one of your Republican opponents, Shawnna Bolick, indicated both that she favored prohibiting abortion except where it was necessary to preserve the life of the mother and that she opposed statewide comprehensive sex education in Arizona public schools. How do Bolick’s positions compare with the values and needs of your constituents?
The U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to choose without undue interference from the state. The Supreme Court first affirmed this basic right in Roe v. Wade and has upheld it many times since. The Supreme Court has also consistently upheld the fundamental value that the state has a legitimate interest in not just protecting the life of the woman, but also the health of the woman. These landmark decisions, which have been challenged and reaffirmed many times since, represent the values of not just my constituents, but also the nation as a whole.
Arizona is ranked 12th for teen pregnancy rates in the country (fourth in 2010), according to the state Department of Health Services. The status quo is unacceptable. Since we know that the piecemeal approach to allowing districts to choose whether and how to offer sexual education is ineffective, the only responsible step as state policymakers is to reform the system by implementing statewide comprehensive, medically accurate sexual education. Comprehensive sex education includes both abstinence and contraceptive methods for reducing the risk of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases and has proven effective nationwide. Opposing this is irresponsible and unfair to our state’s youth and the society as a whole.
If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Meyer, including other endorsements and his positions on other issues, you can visit his campaign website. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Also, please check out our interview with him from 2012, in which he discusses his background in medicine and the importance of patients’ abilities to make their own medical decisions.