The 26th Amendment at 45: Bringing More Voters to the Fight for Reproductive Rights

Image of a button showing support for a lower voting age from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

When the question of same-sex marriage went before the Supreme Court in the summer of 2013, it was clear that millennials, the nation’s youngest adults, had already reached their verdict; 66 percent were in favor of recognizing it, putting them among the most supportive demographic groups in the U.S.

That same year, millennials were in the spotlight in another fight for social justice. Refusing to accept their university’s mishandling of sexual assault reports, two survivor activists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fought back with federal complaints. Their activism turned up the pressure on their institution and evolved into the founding of the organization End Rape on Campus, or EROC, a networked movement against sexual assault that linked survivor activists and other advocates for change on college campuses throughout the U.S. Following EROC’s founding, supportive faculty formed Faculty Against Rape, or FAR, bringing the movement to more stakeholders in campus communities.


Young voters have the power to shape political futures.


Jennings Randolph, a Democratic member of Congress from 1933 to 1947 (and later a senator from 1958 to 1985), said the nation’s youth “possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.” With that faith in the collective power of young Americans, Randolph made it his mission, beginning in 1942, to introduce legislation that would lower the voting age to 18. Historically it had been 21. His hopes, though, would not be realized until decades later, in the 1970s.

The United States entered the 1970s bearing the toll of what became one of the longest and most unpopular wars in its history. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, 2.5 million Americans had served in the conflict, a quarter of them because of the draft. More than 58,000 of them lost their lives. Continue reading

“Instrument of Torture”: The Dalkon Shield Disaster

This Dalkon Shield is archived at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum at Case Western Reserve University. Photo: Jamie Chung

This Dalkon Shield is archived at Case Western Reserve University. Photo: Jamie Chung

These days, IUDs, or intrauterine devices, have stellar reputations as highly effective contraceptives. Along with implants, IUDs can be more effective than permanent sterilization, and their safety record is fantastic. We also have powerful regulations in place to keep dangerous medical devices off the market, and the FTC can keep manufacturers from making false claims in advertising.

But a previous generation of birth-control users might associate IUDs with dangerous pelvic infections and miscarriages. That’s because a single device, called the Dalkon Shield, almost single-handedly destroyed an entire generation’s trust in IUDs. At the time of its debut, there were dozens of IUDs on the market — but the Dalkon Shield unfairly tainted the reputation of all of them. With no FDA or FTC regulations reining in untested devices or false advertising, women in the late 1960s and early 1970s didn’t enjoy the protections that we take for granted today. And it was actually the Dalkon Shield’s string, which was made with a material and by a method that hasn’t been used in IUDs before or since, that made it dangerous.


Today, IUDs are the most popular form of contraception among physicians wishing to avoid pregnancy.


We’ve known about IUDs for more than a century, and have made them out of ebony, ivory, glass, gold, pewter, wood, wool, and even diamond-studded platinum. These days, IUDs release hormones or spermicidal copper ions, but these older devices were simply objects inserted into the uterus that acted as irritants, possibly enlisting the immune system to kill sperm. They were not as effective as modern-day IUDs.

The Dalkon Shield was invented in 1968, was made primarily of plastic, and had “feet” — four or five on each side — to prevent expulsion. In 1970, after being marketed independently, it was sold to family-owned pharmaceutical giant A.H. Robins Company, of Robitussin fame. It was manufactured in the same factory where ChapStick was produced, and retailed for $4.35.

Dr. Hugh J. Davis, the Dalkon Shield’s primary inventor, claimed that users of his device had a 1.1 percent pregnancy rate — but that number was based on a small, methodologically flawed study conducted over eight months. In fact, the Dalkon Shield had a 5.5 percent failure rate over the course of a year. The fact that the Shield didn’t provide high protection against pregnancy was a huge problem, but its design also dramatically increased risk for pregnancy complications. Of the tens of thousands of users who became pregnant while wearing the Dalkon Shield, 60 percent of them had miscarriages. Continue reading

Dr. Joycelyn Elders, a Champion of Teen Sexual and Reproductive Health

EldersIn honor of Black History Month, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona would like to recognize an outstanding and inspiring black woman who championed adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights: Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Dr. Elders served as surgeon general to the United States under President Bill Clinton, and famously said, “I want every child born in America to be a planned and wanted child.”

She started her life in rural Arkansas, picking cotton to help support her family, and in 1978, she became Arkansas’ first board-certified pediatric endocrinologist. Dr. Elders’ work in endocrinology is what first piqued her interest in adolescent sexual health — some of her young patients, such as young girls with diabetes, would face serious health risks if they were to become pregnant.


Dr. Joycelyn Elders is an inspiring, passionate, and outspoken advocate for sexual and reproductive health and justice


In 1987, Dr. Elders became the director of the Arkansas health department. In this role, Dr. Elders championed an initiative that required sex education in the K-12 curriculum. She also aggressively campaigned to make birth control more readily available, particularly for teens, widened the state’s HIV testing and counseling programs, and advocated for greater access to abortion.

Then, in 1993, Dr. Joycelyn Elders became the first African-American and only the second female surgeon general. In an interview, Dr. Elders stated that her No. 1 priority for her tenure as surgeon general was to “to do something about unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.” Continue reading

Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 25: Lost Tampons

Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

tamponPlanned Parenthood Arizona offers a wide variety of services, and someday we hope to cover every last one of them in this series. But today, I’d like to talk about one of the odder services: helping you with a lost tampon.

OK, so “lost” might be a weird word. I mean, you probably know the general area where that tricky tampon is lurking … But it happens even to the best of us: Sometimes, when you go to retrieve a tampon, you just … can’t find it. Maybe it was forgotten about, and then pushed farther up the vaginal canal by a subsequent tampon, or smooshed against the cervix during intercourse, and now you can’t find the string to remove it.


The presence of a certain strain of bacteria in one’s vagina can increase risk for toxic shock syndrome, especially when absorbent tampons are used.


The vagina can be a hiding place for all kinds of things — not just tampons, but sex toys, the remnants of broken condoms, and other foreign objects. And vaginas aren’t the only cavity with magical, or possibly just embarrassing, powers of concealment. When I worked at a medical journal, I came across ample (and very, very detailed!) documentation of all sorts of things getting “lost” in people’s rectums, urethras, ears, and throats. Believe me, a seasoned health care provider has probably seen it all, so if you can’t for the life of you remove something from your vagina on your own, don’t be afraid to ask Planned Parenthood for help. (You might ask about making an emergency, same-day appointment.)

Tampons aren’t designed to be used in a vagina for more than a few hours, and leaving them in for too long might increase risk for certain infections. For example, you might have heard of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is probably the No. 1 condition that comes to people’s minds when they think of tampons being left in for way too long. While it’s true that TSS is associated with tampons, tampons aren’t the only cause — they play just one role in the infection process. Continue reading

Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now

“Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court: It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”

Supreme Court, 1973

Supreme Court, 1973

Thus Jay Floyd, Texas assistant attorney general, opened his December 1971 oral argument in Roe v. Wade, as his adversary attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee sat nearby (no doubt dumbfounded) after Weddington had presented their argument for women’s abortion rights.

Wisely, the Texas reargument in 1972 opened with no attempt at humor. (When Roe was first argued, the Supreme Court consisted of only seven justices. Because the decision would be so historic, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments a second time when all nine justices were in place the following year.) Then, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was constitutionally protected and the 1854 Texas law at issue was struck down, along with abortion laws in 45 other states. (The Texas gentleman was right: The Texas ladies did have the last word.)


What will the Supreme Court bring us this year? “Don’t Mess with Texas” or “Don’t Mess with Women”?


So, as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade this Friday, let’s mosey down memory lane. How did we get to that landmark decision, and where might we be going this year with a new Texas case testing abortion rights, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole?

Throughout history, abortion has been a common practice. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, abortion was legal in all states. Prior to the mid-1800s legal scholars were not proposing abortion laws, nor advocating “personhood” of an unborn child, nor asserting abortion control on medical safety or any other grounds. Continue reading

Five Years Later: Reflections on the 2011 Tucson Shooting

The following guest post comes to us via Edna Meza Aguirre, regional associate development director for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Edna is a native Tucsonan, bilingual and bicultural. She received her JD from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and worked in the area of criminal defense for 12 years before changing careers.

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona's president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona’s president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, at 7:04 a.m., Jared Lee Loughner began his day at a Tucson Walmart. He purchased ammunition for his semi-automatic handgun, a 9 mm Glock pistol. Sometime around 7:34 a.m., he was pulled over for running a red light. When his check revealed no outstanding warrants, he was given a warning and allowed to go.

Two and half hours later, he arrived at a Tucson Safeway grocery store, stood about four feet from U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, aimed his gun, and shot her in the head. He didn’t stop there. By the end of his shooting rampage, 14 people were injured and six families were left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives as they planned funerals for the six victims murdered that morning. Among the dead, a 9-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, and the Honorable Judge John Roll, chief judge of the U.S. District of Arizona.


“The agony of that day drove home for me that ‘safety’ can be an illusory term.”


Loughner’s Glock also ended the lives of Dorothy “Dot” Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman. An aide to Gabby, Gabe was the first congressional worker to die in the line of duty.

Christina-Taylor had a burgeoning interest in our political system. Rep. Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event, created precisely for members of the public like Christina-Taylor, who wanted to learn more about their government. Christina-Taylor had come into the world on a painful day — September 11, 2001. She had been featured in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11. Her spunk and joy provided invaluable happiness to all around her. A child born on a tragic day was to meet with Gabby so she could learn how to contribute to her world. Christina-Taylor had just been elected to her student council.  Continue reading

Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project: The Anniversaries of Two Anti-Violence Movements

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

The statistics on violence against women can be jarring. One out of every four women in the United States reports being assaulted by a current or former partner. And every day, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. At 2 million injuries per year, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women. It means that a woman is assaulted every nine seconds in the United States.

As shocking as these statistics are, evidence from crime reports and community surveys indicates that women are safer today than they were 30 to 40 years ago. Domestic violence and violent crime in general have fallen significantly since the 1970s and 1980s. It was that past era that set the stage for an anti-violence movement that turns 40 this month.


The silence of their victims and the indifference of their communities give amnesty to the perpetrators of gender-based violence.


In October of 1975, the fatal stabbing of a Philadelphia woman shook the community and brought people into the streets to take a stand against relationship and gender-based violence. A young microbiologist named Susan Alexander Speeth was walking home at night when she was attacked and killed only a block from her home.

Following the killing, campus area residents organized a candlelit march through the neighborhood. It was a response not only to the tragedy but also to warnings that women should stay inside to keep similar tragedies from happening again. The people who marched that night wanted to send a clear message: They refused to let the solution to violence fall on its victims, or to let safety mean that their work, family, and community commitments would be secondary. Their protest spawned a movement. Continue reading