Sound Science and Unsound Ideology: Sixty Years of Obstetric Ultrasound

Ultrasound image used in an anti-abortion billboard in Ireland, 2012. Photo: The Vagenda

For decades now, ultrasound technology has been a fixture in the journey from pregnancy to parenthood. It has also become a prized weapon among abortion opponents in the battle over reproductive rights.

Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to render images of a developing fetus, had its beginning 60 years ago this week, with the publication of a seminal paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. The development of the technology has a colorful history, one involving flying mammals, German submarines, a desert-dwelling inventor, and countless medical professionals who saw a range of patient care possibilities.


Ultrasound is a powerful tool, which can benefit patients or be used as a cudgel by abortion opponents.


But that colorful history belies the drab and fuzzy appearance of most ultrasounds. That limitation, though, has never stopped it from taking on enormous significance. When the technology was first developed, it gave obstetricians an unprecedented ability to survey fetal development, making it one of the most important advances in their field during the latter half of the 20th century.

By the same token, ultrasound has not only been a valuable medical tool but also a powerful storytelling tool. Today, it is often put to use four or more times before a patient’s due date. While the FDA and other authorities advise against ultrasounds that aren’t medically necessary — recommending just two for a low-risk pregnancy — many patients opt for additional, elective ultrasounds for the sake of having keepsake images. Posting those images online has become a popular way to share their news with family and friends. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: David Schapira for Superintendent of Public Instruction

The time to fight back — and fight forward — for reproductive justice is fast approaching. The stakes are high in this year’s state election, with candidates for governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and other races on the ballot. The Arizona primary election will be held August 28, 2018, and voters need to be registered by July 30 to cast their ballots. Reproductive health has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who put our health and our rights first. Get to know them now in our series of “Meet Our Candidates” interviews, and make your voice heard in 2018!

David Schapira is not a newcomer to education or politics in Arizona. A passionate educator and lifelong Arizonan, Mr. Schapira has advocated for public education as an elected official for more than a decade. He has served in a diverse array of roles — ranging from the Tempe Union Governing Board to the state Senate — and this November he will challenge Republican incumbent Diane Douglas for the office of superintendent of public instruction.

Sexual and reproductive health care education are critically important to the overall well-being of Arizona’s students. Our state’s current laws regarding sex education fail students by limiting access to medically accurate information, disingenuously promoting abstinence above other contraceptive methods, and actively perpetuating homophobic myths about HIV. Our next superintendent of public instruction should be someone who will help guide Arizona out of the Stone Age and into the modern world, where young women and men are empowered to make informed decisions about their bodies and their futures.


“If your goal is to reduce teen pregnancy and abortions, then the best way to accomplish those two goals is to have comprehensive sex ed.”


Mr. Schapira has a track record that speaks to his support for reforming Arizona’s outdated sexual education statutes. As both a member of the Senate and a member of Tempe Union’s Governing Board, he spearheaded campaigns to include LGBTQ students in anti-bullying and anti-discrimination protections. He has also volunteered for Planned Parenthood since childhood, and played an integral role in the 2014 overhaul of Tempe Union’s sex-ed curriculum.

If elected, Mr. Schapira says he will work to restore respect to the teaching profession, which he believes has eroded as a result of the Arizona Legislature’s animosity toward public education. His open support for the #RedForEd movement stands in stark contrast to that of his opponent — Diane Douglas — who on April 24 threatened punitive action against teachers who participate in a walkout. Douglas’ stance reflects her general disdain for traditional public education, which continues to be starved by her ongoing efforts to funnel public funds into private and charter schools. 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

An Inhuman Industry: Responding to Sex Trafficking in Arizona

Every year, from late January to mid-February, the city of Tucson hosts upward of 50,000 visitors, as the annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase — more commonly known as the Tucson Gem Show — draws exhibitors, traders, and tourists from around the globe. It is the biggest show of its kind, and the economic impact is considerable. This year’s show, which officially wrapped last week, was projected to bring $120 million in spending to local businesses.


Effective sex education arms young people with information about consent, negotiating proper boundaries, and forming healthy relationships.


In recent years, media coverage has also put the Gem Show in the spotlight for its alleged impact on an underground economy. The annual event has become a news hook for activists, victim advocates, and social workers who believe it serves as a boon to the nation’s $3 billion sex-trafficking industry.

Although the Arizona Republic rated the claim as “mostly false” when Martha McSally made it in 2015 — noting that evidence was mostly anecdotal — the idea that large events like the Gem Show lead to a spike in sex trafficking has remained a popular talking point. For example, at an awareness event last year, held shortly before the Gem Show’s kick-off, Tucson city council member Steve Kozachik commented, “Every time you have an outside event coming to any community, whether it be a sporting event or the gem show, the numbers of trafficking incidents spike.” He added, “That means the young in this community are vulnerable.”

Federal law defines sex trafficking as recruiting, harboring, transporting, or otherwise inducing a person to perform a commercial sex act against their will — or before they are legally old enough to consent. Last year, KGUN9 suggested that, during the show, as many as 100 women are “sold for sex” every night. The report, however, did not specify if it was referring to commercial sex as a whole or to trafficked sex exclusively — and whatever role the Gem Show plays in the trade is also a murky subject. Continue reading

Arizona Senate Bill 1394 Seeks Additional Abortion Restrictions

The Arizona Legislature is at it again. Just in case Arizona state laws aren’t intrusive enough, state Sen. Nancy Barto has introduced SB 1394, a bill that would require doctors to ask patients why they are seeking an abortion. SB 1394 would add to Arizona’s already robust reporting requirements, bordering on harassment.


SB 1394 will be heard at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14, by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.


Arizona already requires people seeking abortions to disclose all kinds of personal information, including age; race; ethnicity; marital status; educational background; and number of prior pregnancies, miscarriages, and abortions. SB 1394 inserts the government even deeper into the doctor-patient relationship with questions that are much more intrusive, such as:

  • Can the patient afford a child?
  • Does the patient not want children?
  • Was the patient raped?
  • Is the pregnancy a result of incest?
  • Did the patient or the sexual partner have an extramarital affair?
  • Was the patient abused by the would-be father?

SB 1394 would require doctors to report the answers of the survey to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Republican legislators in Arizona sure have a lot of nerve. They want to mandate that doctors performing abortions ask “why” a woman is terminating her pregnancy. What is the “why” behind this invasive questioning other than wanting to intrude upon the privacy of a woman undergoing a perfectly legal medical procedure? (AZ Central)
  • We at Planned Parenthood will always stress the importance of comprehensive sex education in schools. If you happen to think that sex education isn’t crucial to children’s development, I welcome you to read this disturbing but informative piece over at the New York Times. In the age of widespread smartphone access, young, impressionable kids are learning about sex from the worst source possible — online porn. (NY Times)
  • Speaking of the NYT, why does columnist David Brooks have such a fundamental misunderstanding of late-term abortions (and the fact that only slightly more than 1 percent of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the Guttmacher Institute) and the reasons women have them? This is a highly educated, privileged man with access to soooo many educational resources and statistics on the subject … It’s almost like he’s being willfully ignorant! (Slate)
  • How Trump’s Global Gag Rule Is Devastating Abortion Rights & So Much More One Year Later (Bustle)
  • Alarming news: Head and neck cancers caused by HPV are expected to outnumber cervical cancer cases in the next few years. (U.S. News & World Report)
  • Additionally, men infected with HPV-16, the type responsible for most HPV-related cancers, are 20 times more likely to be reinfected with the same type of HPV after one year. (Science Daily)
  • Thank you, Cosmo, for highlighting Planned Parenthood’s efforts to increase access to telemedicine abortion in 2018. Ensuring women have choices and access to safe procedures will always be a meaningful endeavor for us. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Women who were denied an abortion are three times more likely to be unemployed than women who were able to access one. Women’s access to reproductive health care has an undeniable economic impact! How many times do we have to highlight this connection? (Rewire)
  • Excuse me if I sound radical, but Trump and the Republicans’ war on Medicaid is tantamount to genocide of the poor. (Salon)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Arizona Republican Don Shooter has been expelled from the state Legislature over years of sexually harassing women. Good riddance to bad rubbish. (AZ Central)
  • It’s so nice to be able to report that the useless and arbitrary 20-week abortion ban being peddled by Republicans failed in the Senate! Republicans run every branch of government but, embarrassingly, continue to lose their battles. (Politico)
  • In the post-#MeToo era, it is crucial that children learn not just about their bodies and hormones, but about safety, consent, and healthy relationships. These are all topics that should be part of a compassionate, fully comprehensive sexual education program for all children. (Chicago Tribune)
  • The Virginia Senate agrees: They just passed legislation to require high schools in Virginia to include consent in their curriculum. (The Breeze)
  • Good news: A federal district court on Monday blocked a Texas measure that would require health care providers to bury or cremate embryonic or fetal tissue from abortions, miscarriage, or treatment for ectopic pregnancy. (Rewire)
  • Bad news: STD cases among people 55 and older are on the rise here in Arizona. (Fox 10)
  • If you’re relying on an app for birth control, please read this! (Self)
  • There is a growing underground movement of people across America who have taught themselves to help women terminate pregnancies without a doctor. How sad that this is even necessary 45 years after Roe v. Wade. Is this what we want for women? For them to have to go “underground” and risk life and limb in order to have access to a legal medical procedure? Do we realize that is what we’re fostering in this country by making it impossible for women to end unwanted pregnancies? This breaks my heart. (Mother Jones)
  • Three civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for rolling back protections for students who report sexual assault. (Huff Po)
  • A question any thinking person should be asking: Why does it cost $32,093 just to give birth in America? (Guardian)
  • Could Ireland, one of the most anti-abortion countries in Europe, be close to decriminalizing abortion? (NY Times)
  • The Trump administration officials in charge of the Office of Refugee Resettlement were so set upon forcing an undocumented teen to give birth against her will, they worked themselves into a crazed lather contemplating ways to “reverse” the termination of her pregnancy, which was already in progress. (Vice)
  • Could a toxic plant really be the precursor to an effective male birth control option? (Gizmodo)
  • Get a load of this malarkey: A recent focus group on abortion views shows anti-abortion respondents seem to believe that men understand abortion better than women and that women who have abortions are unintelligent and irresponsible. When asked whether men whose partner was having an abortion understood that it was ending a potential life, 51 percent of abortion opponents said yes. But when asked if women getting abortions understood the procedure, only 36 percent of anti-choicers agreed that a woman knows what she is doing. Abortion foes were also more likely to say they were more comfortable when women were housewives instead of seeking careers.

    Always remember: This is what people who don’t want women to control their bodies and lives think of us. They hold the sincere belief that we lack basic intelligence and the ability to think critically. They think we are inferior to men and that we have no value outside of some man’s kitchen. Gag me. (Salon)