Legislative District 9 Candidates Clash on Reproductive Rights

On October 6, the three House candidates for the 9th legislative district met at a church in the Foothills of Tucson to discuss economic development, education, gun control, and reproductive rights. Given that the Democratic candidates, incumbent Victoria Steele and first-time candidate Randall Friese, are such strong advocates for reproductive justice — in stark contrast to the Republican candidate, incumbent Ethan Orr — Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona was there to take notes.

Steele debateRep. Victoria Steele, having just completed her first term in the Arizona House of Representatives, used part of her opening statement to reflect on her time at the Capitol: “Outside of raising my son to be an adult, this is the most meaningful thing I have done in my life.” She drew a connection between her professional background and her desire to serve her community as a legislator. “As a behavioral health counselor, I had to empower people one on one,” she explained. “As a state legislator, I get to do that on a much wider, much broader basis.”

Reproductive rights emerged as one of the major themes of the night. During her opening statement, Rep. Steele put her desire to “defend a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions” up front and center.

Later in the debate, Rep. Steele spoke in more detail about women’s rights. She advocated for equal pay, fair and living wages, and reproductive justice. “If women don’t have basic rights over their own bodies, they cannot equally contribute to the conversation, they cannot be at the table, they cannot be a player in moving our state forward,” she asserted. “If women don’t have these basic rights, they cannot contribute to the economy, and their families cannot have the quality of life that we so deserve in Arizona.”

Friese debateDuring his opening statement, Randall Friese asked the question, “What is a perfectly good doctor doing running for the state Legislature?” Dr. Friese is a trauma surgeon who was on duty at the University of Arizona Medical Center when the victims of the January 8, 2011 shooting, including Gabrielle Giffords, were rushed to the hospital for treatment. He, too, connected his work in medicine to his political aspirations, framing them both as manifestations of his desire to serve his community.

Dr. Friese, in his opening remarks, also spoke strongly in favor of “a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions” — a declaration that was met with great applause. Showing his support for LGBTQ rights as well, Dr. Friese asserted, “I stand for equality for all.”

Later in the debate, Dr. Friese said that economic recovery and job creation could only be spurred by creating a climate in which businesses want to operate. Such an environment would include access to “quality health care, including safe and effective options for birth control.” It would also protect opportunity, safety, and equality. Regarding the latter point, Dr. Friese asked, “How do we pursue equality? We protect choice. We ensure equal pay for equal work … We allow two people who love each other to marry each other … Where people want to live is where corporations and businesses will want to grow.”

Rep. Orr, on the other hand, used his opening statement to speak about the accomplishments he was most proud of, including pension reform and helping veterans obtain jobs. But he was forced to address reproductive rights later in the evening, when moderator Jim Nintzel of The Tucson Weekly asked the candidates about House Bill 2284, which was signed into law earlier this year and allows unannounced inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant. Previously, the health department needed to obtain a warrant before inspecting facilities in which abortions were performed, due to the heightened need for privacy and safety that the patients at these highly politicized health centers need.

Dr. Friese was the first to comment, calling HB 2284 “a bad piece of legislation, infringing upon the personal choice rights of women in this state.” He said that his opponent, Rep. Orr, “supports outlawing abortion in every situation, no exceptions. He signed a proclamation declaring Roe v. Wade unconstitutional … He also promised to obtain all rights of personhood for the fetus at any stage of development.” Dr. Friese summarized his own position: “A woman’s right to choose is under attack and I am proud to defend it.”

Rep. Steele, who voted against HB 2284, elaborated upon her support for abortion access. “I believe people have the right to make their own personal health care decisions … No politician, no boss should come between a woman and her health care decisions.” She said that HB 2284 equated to “state-sanctioned harassment of people” and asked, “If women don’t have rights to their own bodies, if we can’t make these decisions, then what rights do we have?” Laws like HB 2284 “are efforts to send us back to the 1950s and beyond.”

Defending his vote for HB 2284, Rep. Orr cited a “need to change the conversation from wedge politics to solutions,” and voiced support for helping young women and families, providing comprehensive sex education in high school, and funding prenatal care and WIC, despite the fact that he did not advocate for these things during his first term in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Orr continued, saying, “Now we’ve had some rhetoric, let’s talk about the reality of that bill … I believe that if the abortion clinic is a medical facility, it should have the same standards as every other medical facility. [HB 2284] allowed surprise inspections for abortion clinics just like we do for hospitals and restaurants and every other facility. If you’re going to protect people, and a government’s job is to protect vulnerable women in those facilities, then we should do everything we can to make sure they are safe and clean, regardless of where you stand on this issue.”

Both Rep. Steele and Dr. Friese responded to Rep. Orr’s characterization of HB 2284 and the discourse surrounding it. First, Rep. Steele said, “I just heard my friend and my colleague Ethan Orr say something that I actually highly resent. That my views on a woman’s right to make her own important health care decisions are rhetoric.” Dr. Friese criticized Orr’s portrayal of HB 2284 as a matter of safety: “Abortions have been happening for decades and they are safe. Complication rates for abortion are one of the lowest in any medical procedure. Abortion clinics are inspected. These places are safe and they are inspected.”

During her closing statement, Rep. Steele said, “Today, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in several states, and it is just a matter of time before that happens here in Arizona. I will fight for marriage equality, fight for a woman’s right to choose, and access to affordable birth control.” Dr. Friese reiterated his support for reproductive rights as well when he said, “I will defend a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. Mr. Orr will not.”

It is clear that the voters of Legislative District 9 have two candidates to send to the House of Representatives who will protect reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights: Rep. Victoria Steele and Dr. Randall Friese. Whether you’re voting early or will show up at the polls, make sure that you mark your ballot for our endorsed candidates!

To learn more about Victoria Steele’s views, read the interviews we conducted with her in 2012 and 2014. Then visit her website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter. You can read the interview we conducted with Randall Friese earlier this year and visit his website, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

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