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: 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

Book Club: Her Body, Our Laws

By 2014, law professor Michelle Oberman was no stranger to El Salvador. She had already spent four years making research trips to the Central American country, but that June she would need a local guide during her travels. An activist had volunteered to accompany her on the interview she needed to conduct, a task that required a two-and-a-half-hour trip outside the city to an area that is not well mapped — in fact, to a village where there are “no signs or numbers” to help visitors find their way among the cinder-block houses and the patchwork of land where the clucks and lowing of livestock punctuate the silence.


Paid maternity leave, monthly child allowances, and affordable day care and health care decrease demand for abortion.


Once in the village, it took Oberman and her guide an additional 45 minutes to find the house they needed to visit. Inside, a curtain was all that separated the main room from a small bedroom in the back. A bucket and outdoor basin served as a shower, and an outhouse completed the bathroom facilities. The living conditions there were not uncommon — not in a country where roughly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

That poverty was both the cause and consequence of a conflict between left-wing rebels and government forces that lasted from 1979 to 1992. In many ways, that conflict set the stage for the abortion war in El Salvador, the subject of Oberman’s recently published book, Her Body, Our Laws: On the Frontlines of the Abortion War from El Salvador to Oklahoma (Beacon Press, 2018).

From Civil War to Abortion War

In the early 1980s, the small republic of El Salvador was in the grip of civil war, while in the U.S., debates raged over the emerging Sanctuary Movement that was aiding Salvadoran and other Central American refugees. The movement began in 1981, when Quaker activist Jim Corbett and Presbyterian Pastor John Fife, both of Tucson, pledged to “protect, defend, and advocate for” the many people fleeing warfare and political turmoil in El Salvador and neighboring countries. Tucson was at the forefront of the movement as refugees crossed through Mexico and arrived at the Arizona border. Continue reading

In the Wake of Roe v. Wade: The Helms Amendment

USAID is essential in reducing infant and maternal mortality in the developing world.

This Sunday, December 17, is the 44th anniversary of the Helms Amendment.

What is the Helms Amendment and why should we care about it?

The simple answer to the first part of that question is that it is language added to the 1973 foreign aid bill. It reads:

No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.


The Helms Amendment was the first federal legislative attack on abortion rights in the post-Roe era.


But of course nothing to do with abortion is ever simple. Think of the Senate in December 1973, just 11 months after the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. In the intervening months the war in Vietnam ended; Henry Kissinger visited China; the Watergate hearings and the first trials of the conspirators began; Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being convicted of accepting bribes; President Nixon named Gerald Ford to replace Agnew; there were bloody coups in Greece and Chile; the Yom Kippur War was fought in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo against the United States, raising gasoline prices from 25 cents per gallon to more than a dollar; Nixon tried to stop the Watergate investigation by firing the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox; the top two people in the Justice Department resigned rather than do so, leaving Robert Bork to carry out that order, in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre; eventually Nixon was compelled to turn over his tapes after fighting the order in court.

In other words, 1973 was a turbulent year, a time of great change and political turmoil in Washington. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Kevin Patterson for Phoenix City Council District 6

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 29, 2017. 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. In order to vote in the primary election, you must be registered to vote by July 31. Early voting begins on August 2. Make your voice heard in 2017!

Kevin PattersonKevin Patterson is running for a seat on the Phoenix City Council — specifically for District 6. Mr. Patterson is the director of talent management and leadership development for Banner Health, the largest employer in Phoenix. Mr. Patterson has spent his life advocating for marginalized constituencies and building consensus for common-sense solutions to some of our state’s problems. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed Mr. Patterson because of his strong support for reproductive health care.


“Health care is a human right.”


On July 3, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Patterson about his positions on health care advocacy, as well as his support of the LGBTQ community.

What motivated you to run for Phoenix City Council?

I am running for Phoenix City Council because I want my kids to grow up in a city where they feel safe, are provided opportunities to thrive, and [are] respected for their diversity. The national rhetoric right now is so divisive and combative that it makes me nervous to think about the type of world they will grow up in if more consensus-building policies aren’t put in place. I believe that change happens at home and in our communities on the local level. For our neighborhoods, I would like to create opportunities for responsible economic growth, safe neighborhoods, efficient public resources. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Scott Prior for State Senator, LD 16

The Arizona primary election takes place TODAY! Find your polling location here. 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. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in today’s primary election, you need to have been registered to vote by August 1. Missed the deadline? You can still register online for November’s general election. Make your voice heard in 2016!

Scott Prior is resilient and tenacious in his commitment to underrepresented citizens. He is running for the state Senate in Arizona’s Legislative District 16 for the third time. He previously ran in 2012 and 2014, at which time he shared his thoughts with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona (PPAA). PPAA has endorsed Mr. Prior each time because as a Democrat who is independent-minded, he places the interest of people over the interest of profit. He is committed to individual freedom and believes that human dignity should come before corporate, government, or religious interests. Mr. Prior’s wife is running in the same district for the state House of Representatives. Scott and Cara have been married 20 years and live in Apache Junction. They are both committed to reproductive justice.


“Sex education should be age-appropriate and provided in schools.”


Legislative District 16 includes Apache Junction, East Mesa, Gold Canyon, and northern San Tan Valley. Mr. Prior will be running against Republican David Farnsworth. Sen. Farnsworth believes that abortions should always be illegal and does not believe that the Arizona government should fund clinics and medical facilities that provide abortion services. Sen. Farnsworth also does not support sex education in schools, increasing funding for programs to prevent teen pregnancy, the inclusion of sexual orientation in Arizona’s anti-discrimination laws, or recognizing same-sex marriages.

On July 8, 2016, Mr. Prior generously took time to share his thoughts with PPAA again via Skype, sharing why he is more determined than ever to win this election.

Since PPAA last spoke with you, how has your commitment to serving Arizona grown? What has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

The serious mistakes made over the last two years by the state Legislature have made me even more resolved to make a difference in the state of Arizona. Funding for schools has been slashed while corporate tax breaks and funding for private prisons have been increased. I do not want to see what has happened in Kansas happen in Arizona. In Kansas, there has not been enough money to keep the schools open the entire year.

As a secular humanist, I do not believe or follow any religion. It is unacceptable for the Phoenix City Council and the Arizona Legislature to deny all but Judeo-Christian faiths from taking part in opening invocations. It is important that we all understand the importance of the separation of church and state. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Corin Hammond for State Representative, LD 11

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 30, 2016. 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. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the primary election, you need to have been registered to vote by August 1. Missed the deadline? You can still register online for November’s general election. Make your voice heard in 2016!

Corin Hammond croppedArizona’s Legislative District 11 covers an area northwest of Tucson that includes Marana, Oro Valley, Catalina, and Picture Rocks, extending as far north as Maricopa City. The district is currently represented in the House by Republicans Mark Finchem and Vince Leach. The district — or the district that preceded it, which covered much of the same area — has in the past been represented by Democrats or by moderate-to-liberal Republicans, and I know that we can be again.

Corin Hammond is running for an LD 11 seat in the House. She generously answered our questions on July 25, 2016.


“The right to make decisions regarding one’s own body is essential to the American values of opportunity and freedom.”


Tell us a little about your background.

I am a 31-year-old finishing my Ph.D. in soil and water chemistry at the University of Arizona. I have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry from the University of Arizona. I was born in Corvallis, Oregon, but moved all over the country including Las Cruces, New Mexico, Fairfax, Virginia, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Narragansett, Rhode Island. Now I live in Marana, Arizona, with my husband, David, and my baby girl, Summer, who will turn 2 in September. We have two dogs, Winston and Hazel.

What kind of beneficial legislation would you like to see introduced, and why do you think it’s important to fight for it?

Allocating funding for public education at a nationally competitive rate will allow Arizona to achieve high-performing public education programs at all levels. High-performing public education for pre-K-12 is a cornerstone to reducing crime rates, ending the cycle of poverty, and developing a skilled workforce that will attract high-tech business development to Arizona and bring good, high-paying jobs to our state. State-funded all-day pre-K and kindergarten programs are essential to closing the gender wage gap. Continue reading