Know Your Rights: Advocating for Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

It’s important that all young people have the information and resources they need to take care of their sexual and reproductive health. However, depending on the state you live in, you might encounter barriers in the form of laws and policies that affect your ability as a young person to access your sexual and reproductive rights. Through our work of providing sex education in various Arizona communities, we know many people aren’t fully clear on what their rights are when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — so consider this a quick crash course!


A critical step in protecting your sexual health is to understand your rights.


In terms of information about sexuality, there is no state law requiring sex education in schools. It is up to each school district to decide whether they provide sex education, and what type of curriculum they want to use if they do provide it. We know there are many districts across Arizona that have chosen not to offer sex education to their students or to provide limited information about sexuality (e.g., abstinence-only sex ed).

The lack of consistency around sex education is problematic because research shows that most youth and their families want their schools to offer comprehensive sex ed  — a holistic curriculum that covers topics like consent, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, abstinence, etc. Furthermore, when youth receive comprehensive sex ed, they are more likely to have healthy relationships and make choices that will reduce their likelihood of unintended pregnancies and STDs.

When it comes to accessing resources and services that help young people protect their health, there are a few laws in Arizona that are important to know about: Continue reading

Due Protections: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 40

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977. Photo: Lynn Gilbert

Today, Susan Struck’s political positions are nothing that would stick out in a red state like Arizona. A few years ago, she joined the chorus of support for the once-threatened A-10 fighter jet program at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. In a 2010 article on immigration, a writer noted her concerns about automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children.

Despite the rightward tilt that would be assigned to her views today, Struck was once at the center of a fight for reproductive justice, a cause taken up by a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back when “The Notorious RBG” was still a lawyer for the ACLU. It was that fight that led to Ginsburg’s involvement in the writing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, a landmark piece of legislation that turns 40 this month.


Despite 40 years of protections, pregnancy discrimination hasn’t gone away.


Now retired in an Arizona ranch community, Struck first arrived in the Copper State at the end of the 1960s, when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Davis-Monthan. She told Elle in a 2014 interview that she reveled in her newfound independence from the family and church she left in Kentucky. “She went on the Pill and stopped attending confession,” the article recounts, and she spent her free time enjoying her sexual freedom and the chance to experience Tucson’s foothills in a newly acquired Camaro.

Still, Struck wanted more excitement, so she asked to be sent to Vietnam. She was assigned to Phù Cát Air Force Base, where she quickly hit it off with an F-4 pilot — and ended up pregnant. Struck understood that the Air Force gave officers in her situation two choices: get an abortion or be honorably discharged. It was 1970 then, still a few years before Roe v. Wade, but the armed forces had made abortion legal ahead of civilian society. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can Older Adults Receive the HPV Vaccine?

female-patient-with-female-doctorWhen the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines were introduced, a lot of people were excited about protection from a sexually transmitted virus that could cause cancers, including cervical cancer, anal cancer, and head-and-neck cancer. It wasn’t just any old vaccine, it was a shot that could prevent cancer. Cancer!

In fact, a lot of people were disappointed they were too old to take advantage of an anti-cancer vaccine, which was initially approved for people as old as 26. We were given a lot of reasons why people above that age were “too old,” such as the assumption that anyone older than 26 has probably been sexually active for years and would have already contracted the most common strains of HPV.


While getting vaccinated before becoming sexually active is optimal, the HPV vaccine can still benefit people who have already had sex.


But there are compelling reasons to vaccinate people in their late 20s and beyond. In fact, Gardasil 9 was recently approved for people as old as 45. That’s great news for those of us who missed out on the HPV vaccine the first time around. We might never have had any sexual contact, and therefore were never at risk for catching the sexually transmitted virus. We might have found ourselves widowed or divorced after years or decades of monogamy. We might have been sexually active with multiple partners during that time. Whatever our circumstances, those of us who are 45 or younger can now consider HPV vaccination.

HPV and the “Older” Individual

When Cervarix and Gardasil, the first HPV vaccines, were released, they only protected against two cancer-causing HPV strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers (Gardasil protects against two additional wart-causing HPV strains). A few years ago, Gardasil 9 hit the market, targeting five additional cancer-causing HPV strains — increasing the chances that even sexually active recipients could be protected from HPV strains they hadn’t encountered. Continue reading

Maternal Mortality: A National Embarrassment

Americans spend more money on childbirth than any other country, but we’re not getting a good return on our investment.

Less than a century ago, approximately one mother died for every 100 live births — an occurrence so common that nearly everyone belonged to a family, or knew of one, that was devastated by such a loss. Fortunately, in most nations, those tragedies have declined over the years. In fact, in the decade between 2003 and 2013, only eight countries saw their maternal mortality rates rise.

Unfortunately, the United States was one of those eight countries, joining a club that also includes Afghanistan and South Sudan. Within the 31 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an American woman is more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than a citizen of any other country besides Mexico. Among developed countries, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates — and those rates are only getting worse.

Graph: CDC

U.S. maternal mortality has attracted the attention of organizations whose oversight you wouldn’t expect. Amnesty International, which most Americans associate with the fight against human rights abuses in far-flung authoritarian regimes, considers our high maternal mortality rates to be a violation of human rights. Additionally — and pathetically — one of the biggest sources of funding for maternal health in the United States comes not from taxpayers but from the pharmaceutical company Merck. The Economist quoted a Merck spokesperson as saying, “We expected to be doing all our work in developing countries.” Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: January Contreras for Arizona Attorney General

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!

Although January Contreras has never run for an elected office prior to now, she has spent her career close to politics and devoted to public service. Her experience has included advising Gov. Janet Napolitano on health policy and serving on President Obama’s White House Council on Women and Girls.

Last year, Contreras announced her bid to become the next Arizona attorney general, a position that serves as the chief legal officer of the state of Arizona. The attorney general represents and provides legal advice to the state and defends Arizona’s people and businesses in cases involving financial, civil rights, and felony criminal violations.


“We are our best when we work to protect the well-being and rights of all of us.”


During Napolitano’s tenure as attorney general, Contreras worked in the office as an assistant attorney general, with a focus on prosecuting criminal fraud cases. More recently, Contreras set her sights on leading the office, because she felt the state was at a “very important crossroads.” As she told the Arizona Republic, “for too long, the special interests have treated the office as their personal law firm.” As attorney general, Contreras wants to serve working families and small businesses and, as she told the Washington office of The Guardian, “fight hard” for “people in vulnerable positions.”

Fighting on behalf of those at risk is a cause that has been close to Contreras’ heart. Contreras has served on the board of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and was instrumental in establishing the Council on Combating Violence Against Women for Obama’s Department of Homeland Security. More recently, she co-founded a legal aid organization for women and children who are victims of abuse, Arizona Legal Women and Youth Services (ALWAYS). In addition, Contreras has been a lawyer and advocate for youth in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children from facing deportation. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Photo: Lauren Walker

    A proud announcement to start the rundown this week: We are NOT backing down in our fight to expand access to abortion, birth control, and reproductive health care across the country! (ABC News)

  • If you’re searching for abortion care, be VERY careful using Google Maps — you might end up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a legit clinic. Ugh! (Gizmodo)
  • One of the most problematic industries in modern times, for-profit health insurers, are denying coverage to people taking PrEP, which dramatically reduces the risk of contracting HIV. Awfully ironic, isn’t it? Being conscientious of your health and taking steps to avoid transmission of a deadly virus make you undesirable to insurance companies. WTF. (Jezebel)
  • The New York Times published a highly informative op-ed about how teenage mothers are infantilized after giving birth, and it is a must-read. (NYT)
  • Social conservatives in the U.S. have strong and largely unpopular views on sexuality and reproductive behaviors. When they can’t sway public opinion, they turn to restrictions and prohibitions to impose their views on others. Why they can’t simply live by their own values and then mind their own freakin’ business is beyond me. Truly. (Guttmacher)
  • Buzzfeed proclaimed “Republicans Need Women Voters To Keep Control Of Congress. The Latest White House Response to Abuse Allegations Isn’t Helping.” But my question is, will white women really care at the polls? Like, really? Pardon me for being skeptical due to their history. (Buzzfeed)
  • Hearing women’s voice is so important, and this riveting op-ed from the daughter of a physically, verbally, emotionally, and financially abusive father highlights just why access to birth control is essential for women. This should NOT be a controversial issue! (Juneau Empire)
  • The ACLU is fighting an Ohio law banning abortion for fetuses with Down Syndrome. (NPR)
  • The Trump budget cuts millions in funds for HIV/AIDS programs because this is what thugs like him enjoy doing. Harming the sick, poor, brown, and marginalized. (HuffPo)
  • When I was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, I was constantly race-baited by the protesters who lurked outside our health center. As a Black woman, I was shamed for the alleged racism of Margaret Sanger. I was told that “the most dangerous place for a black child was in the womb.” I was questioned about why Black women abort more than white women. And SO much more. But something I literally NEVER heard the “pro-life” set crowing about? Why Black infants die so much more frequently than white infants. It’s almost as if they don’t care about these babies once they’re no longer incubating. Imagine if the people who proclaim to love babies and children put their staunch advocacy behind saving the lives of children who are actually born? Will we ever see their care and concern for fetuses extend to born babies and children?? (The Nation)

STD Awareness: Transgender Men and Cervical Health

Healthy cervical cells as seen under a microscope. Image: National Cancer Institute

Just one month ago, headlines screamed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received a list of “banned words” from the Trump administration. One of those words was transgender, raising the alarm that the current president might be eyeing policies that would further marginalize the trans population and harm their health. (Other forbidden words include fetus, evidence-based, and vulnerable.) Some have argued it wasn’t Trump policy per se, but self-censoring on the part of the CDC to protect their budgets from being slashed by legislators hostile to transgender rights, abortion rights, science, people of color, and poor people.

In any case, refusing to use words like transgender can have grave consequences for trans health. If the CDC can’t reference the trans population when requesting money for services and studies, they will be hobbled in their ability to serve that population’s needs.


Recommendations for cervical cancer screening are the same for anyone with a cervix, whether trans or cisgender.


January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Anyone who has a cervix can develop cervical cancer — including transgender men who have not had their cervixes surgically removed. In observance of the month, and in defiance of directions to avoid the word transgender, today we’ll discuss the importance of cervical health in trans men — and why taxpayer-funded entities like the CDC and the National Institutes of Health must be able to study and serve this population.

Transgender men (or trans men for short) are individuals born with female reproductive organs, but who identify as male. Likewise, cisgender women were born with female reproductive organs and identify as female. Both trans men and cisgender women were born with cervixes, and wherever a cervix exists, the possibility of cervical cancer exists. Continue reading