STD Awareness: Herpes in the Headlines

Two separate stories about herpes have popped up in recent headlines, and the news isn’t good. A “citizen-scientist” injected an untested herpes treatment live on Facebook, sidestepping preliminary studies on safety and effectiveness. Meanwhile, research into a promising herpes vaccine was shut down as the extent of one scientist’s severe ethics violations came to light. Both stories show that there is a strong demand for ways to prevent, treat, and cure herpes — and both are case studies in the wrong way to bring such therapies to market.


Unscrupulous researchers may take advantage of people with stigmatized infections like herpes.


Herpes is a sexually transmitted virus that can cause “outbreaks” of painful genital sores. Afterward, the virus goes dormant in the nerve cells, hiding from the immune system. In some people, the virus can “wake up” to cause temporary flare-ups of symptoms. Given how common this virus is, a preventive shot could help a lot of couples discuss their herpes status without as much fear of judgment and stigma.

While someday an effective herpes vaccine might be developed, recent headlines have been unfortunate examples of scientific experimentation gone horribly wrong.

Citizen-Scientists Doing it Wrong

On February 4, at a biohacking conference, Aaron Traywick took off his pants in front of an audience and injected his thigh with a syringe containing a never-before-tested herpes treatment — a type of gene therapy, a treatment that alters a patient’s DNA by inserting genes into their cells. Frustrated by the testing that pharmaceutical companies must do, and the regulations they’re saddled with, he thought his startup company could leapfrog over these steps and go straight from the lab to human testing, using himself as a guinea pig. In addition to the alleged herpes “cure” that Traywick injected himself with, his company makes a similar herpes vaccine, which they hope will prevent herpes infections in those who don’t have it. Continue reading

A Gun in the Oven

Last month, during an Arizona House debate on whether to ban bump stocks, which make semiautomatic rifles fire almost as fast as machine guns, Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa) blamed abortions for the epidemic of school shootings: “We are in a culture of death where it’s OK if you have an unwanted pregnancy to just go ahead and kill that child.”

This is not the first time a link between abortion access and school shootings has been suggested. In his commencement speech at the University of Maryland in 2013, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) proclaimed, “Forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court sanctioned abortion on demand. And we wonder why our culture sees school shootings so often.”

All morning, I’ve been trying to get inside the heads of these two legislators and follow the twisted reasoning behind their statements. Perhaps a Vulcan mind meld might work, though I suspect my brain could be permanently damaged. But, in the spirit of inquiry, I’ll take that risk.

OK, now that our minds are melded, I think I see a grand vision unfolding. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Frances Oldham Kelsey and the Power of Skepticism

If Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey had been named Mary, Helen, or Dorothy, it’s possible that thousands of babies would have died or been born with debilitating birth defects.

In the mid-1930s, after earning a master’s degree in pharmacology in her native Canada, Frances Oldham wrote to Eugene Geiling, a researcher at the University of Chicago, asking to work in his lab and study for a doctorate. Assuming Frances was a man, Dr. Geiling replied with an offer of a scholarship, addressing the letter to “Mr. Oldham.”


Dr. Kelsey upends the stereotype of the government bureaucrat. She saved lives by being a stickler for details.


Reflecting on the incident in an autobiography, she remembered Dr. Geiling as a “very conservative and old-fashioned” man who “did not hold too much with women as scientists.” His assumption that Frances Oldham was male might have played a role in her scholarship and subsequent education, which prepared her for a career that touched every American.

From an Early Victory in Chicago to a New Career in Washington, D.C.

After moving to Chicago, Frances Oldham earned a doctorate in pharmacology in 1938 and a medical degree in 1950. Along the way, she got married, becoming Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, and gave birth to two daughters.

Her work in Dr. Geiling’s lab provided early experience in unraveling medical mysteries. In 1937, more than 100 people, including 34 children, died after taking a liquid sulfa drug formulated with an artificial fruit flavor. Dr. Geiling’s team of scientists soon identified the problem: The medicine was composed primarily of antifreeze — along with the active ingredient, coloring, and flavorings. It was sent to market with no testing. Public outrage led to the 1938 passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which required manufacturers to provide evidence to the FDA that their drugs were safe. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 3: White Supremacy and the War on Abortion

This article is our third installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series explored the first years after Roe v. Wade, when a fight to preserve school segregation brought together Christian conservatives, who then took on the issue of abortion. This installment examines the connections that developed later between racist groups and the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s, which fed a growing extremism that escalated in the following decade.

KKK members picket Carter campaign office in Alabama, September 1, 1980. Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, courtesy of Georgia State University

The U.S. entered the 1980s with a new political force at work, one that had proven its strength by playing a role in the landslide defeat of incumbent President Jimmy Carter and the election of Ronald Reagan. The religious right had been slow to coalesce in the 1970s, but when it finally did, it became a power that shaped national politics.

What had taken time was trying out — and then abandoning — issues like school prayer and pornography, hoping to find the political lightning bolt that would unite and energize the religious right. When they finally did find their compelling issue, the religious right had a problem: It wasn’t one they could use publicly.


During the Reagan years, there was ample crossover between white supremacist and anti-abortion groups.


Beginning in the 1960s, the South was dotted with private Christian schools that provided white Southerners, many of whom were wary of racial integration, with an alternative to the public schools that were undergoing desegregation. But by the 1970s, those private schools were under attack, coming under the scrutiny of both the IRS and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for their admissions and hiring policies.

The issue brought together key figures in the religious right, like Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and Paul Weyrich, and they made it their mission to defeat Carter’s reelection bid, hoping the next president would put the IRS and EEOC on a shorter leash. But to build their movement publicly and nationally, they needed an issue that would stir a broader base of sympathy, branding them as believers instead of bigots. They picked abortion — namely, demanding a constitutional amendment to outlaw it — and they enjoyed a resounding success. Carter refused their demands and lost. Reagan, the candidate they endorsed — and whose party supported their demand in its official platform — won by one of the largest margins in history. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Pride in Reykjavík. Photo: Dave

    I’m thrilled to start this edition of the rundown off with stellar news! On Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people. It also held that employers may not use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify discrimination against LGBTQ workers. (Slate)

  • It is beyond disheartening to witness what the Trump administration is doing to erode women’s access to affordable contraception. (NYT)
  • And it’s even more disheartening considering the positive outcome birth control has on women’s economic fortunes. Particularly women of color: 65 percent of black female and 64 percent of Latina small-business owners surveyed by Small Business Majority say that access to birth control, and the freedom to decide if and when to have children, has impacted their bottom lines as business owners. (Forbes)
  • The FDA continues to receive negative reports on the implanted birth control device Essure. It is so important for women to research and discuss all potential risks (for any medication or medical device) with their doctors. (Reuters)
  • A Trump-nominated judge has participated in a number of dangerous anti-choice panels, including one where she supported a doctor who claims “that women who take contraceptive pills are more likely to die violent deaths.” HA! WHAT?!? Oh, and she also left anti-abortion speeches she gave off her Senate disclosure form. (Vice)
  • Mississippi is trying to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. Which is the epitome of stupid, because courts across the country have ruled over and over that states cannot restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. But hey, since when do forced-birth advocates care about repeating their failures again and again? (CBS News)
  • The U.N. has advised that the teen pregnancy rate in Latin America, as well as the Caribbean, is “unacceptably high.” (Thompson Reuters)
  • Do birth control pills cause depression? Science says no. (Time)
  • Love this piece about the orgasm gap in heterosexual encounters and how it goes unaddressed in the realm of sex ed! (The Conversation)
  • Texas and the Catholic Church continue to be problematic as hell. Two lesbian college professors married to each other were told they could not foster a refugee child through Catholic Charities of Fort Worth because they did not “mirror a holy family,” according to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Tuesday. How can these entities purport to be pro-life when they stand in opposition of two seemingly good, earnest people trying to save a child’s life? (Fort Worth Star)
  • We are taking the midterm elections very seriously around here! Planned Parenthood is doing everything in our power to kick the GOP’s heinie/culo/derrière this November. (Slate)

International Women’s Day: She Persisted

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1909 in the United States, and was officially designated as a worldwide holiday by the International Women’s Conference in 1910. The founders of this conference were socialists and communists who wanted equity for women’s contributions to the workforce, particularly in the garment industry, where women worked for 12 hours a day in hazardous conditions for very little pay.


Celebrate women who have fought winning battles for human rights.


International Women’s Day also praises women who have fought to gain voting rights around the world. Citizens of the United States are (or at least should be) aware of American suffragists like Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, whose efforts culminated in the 19th amendment of the Constitution, giving American women the right to vote in 1919.

We should also honor the struggles of women in other countries to get the right to vote. For instance, Sylvia Pankhurst was a leader of the British suffrage movement, and was active in the labor movement as well. Many of us take the right to vote for granted, but let’s not forget that women in Saudi Arabia were unable to vote until 2015, and they weren’t even allowed to drive a car until the Saudi royalty decreed that women could start driving this year.

Past generations of women fought hard for the right to vote, and the current generation is an untapped source of power at the ballot box. For example, while only half of registered millennial voters cast a ballot in 2016, this level of voter participation was an increase from the previous election cycle. Collectively, more millennials and members of Generation X cast ballots than did members of older generations. That can be credited to the fact that members of younger generations outnumber members of the older generations, but it is also an indication of the potential young people have to create change when they exercise their right to vote. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Lauren Kuby for Tempe City Council

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. The Tempe general election will be held on March 13, 2018, with ballots mailed to registered voters on February 14. Make your voice heard in 2018!

In the upcoming Tempe special election, there are six candidates vying for three open City Council seats. Tempe residents will also cast their votes for three separate ballot initiatives. For the first time in the city’s history, all registered voters will receive their ballots by mail. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA) has endorsed two Tempe City Council candidates: Genevieve Vega and Lauren Kuby.


“I’m a woman who turns words into action!”


Lauren Kuby is running for reelection to the City Council in order to continue building a sustainable future for Tempe. During her tenure in office, Ms. Kuby has advocated for policies ranging from equal pay to environmental protection to campaign finance reform. In 2012, the Arizona Republic named Ms. Kuby one of five “Tempe newsmakers” who impacted the city over the course of the year. If reelected to the City Council, Ms. Kuby will continue fighting for her vision of Tempe as a “compassionate,” “diverse,” and “innovative” community.

On February 19, 2018, Ms. Kuby took the time to be interviewed by PPAA, offering insight into her background and the motivations behind her candidacy.

Tell us a little about your background.

My family always told me that I was bound for a life of community service. I trace that path back to 1958, when my parents were volunteering for JFK’s senate campaign in small-town Massachusetts. One day, JFK unexpectedly visited, with no entourage, our local campaign office. He asked for coffee, and my dad raced home to percolate a cup, leaving 8-month-old me and my mom alone with the family hero. “Your baby makes me miss my Caroline. Can I hold her?” The story of JFK rocking me as a baby became family lore and a large part of my identity.
Continue reading