STD Awareness: The Syphilis Outbreak’s Youngest Victims

Arizona is officially in the midst of a syphilis outbreak that in 2018 claimed the lives of 10 infants. That’s the most babies to die of congenital syphilis in the state’s recent history. In addition to the 10 deaths, another 43 babies were born with syphilis, which can cause severe health problems.

The word “congenital” simply means the baby was born with syphilis after acquiring the infection in the womb. The bacteria that cause syphilis can cross the placenta to reach the fetus — and will do so in 80 percent of pregnancies in which syphilis is untreated. As many as 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis during pregnancy will be stillborn or will die soon after birth. The condition can also cause rashes, bone deformities, severe anemia, jaundice, blindness, and deafness. The good news is that congenital syphilis is almost completely preventable. When it is administered at the appropriate time and at the correct dosage, penicillin is 98 percent effective.


Prenatal care must include screening for syphilis, which can be cured with penicillin but can be deadly if not treated.


Syphilis used to be the most feared STD out there, but rates have been plunging since the discovery of effective antibiotics during the first half of the 20th century. By 2000, syphilis rates hit an all-time low, and many health experts thought the United States was at the dawn of the complete elimination of the disease. But it’s been making a comeback, and between 2013 and 2017 nationwide congenital syphilis rates more than doubled, with the number of affected babies at a 20-year high.

Areas in the southern and western United States have been especially hard hit. Arizona has the sixth-highest congenital syphilis rate in the country, after Louisiana, Nevada, California, Texas, and Florida. Our congenital syphilis rate doubled between 2016 and 2017 — in terms of sheer numbers, most of these cases originated in Maricopa County, but officials say it’s disproportionately affecting rural areas. Gila County, which is east of Phoenix and home to the old mining town Globe, has the highest syphilis rate in the state. Continue reading

The Racist Roots of the War on Sex Ed

JBS-supported billboard accusing Martin Luther King Jr. of communist ties. Image: Bob Fitch photography archive, Stanford University Libraries

The 1960s were a decade of dramatic social and political changes, many of them catalyzed by the shock of assassinations or the dawn of culture-changing technology like the birth control pill.

It would seem, then, that by the end of the decade it would have taken an especially grave development to prompt warnings of a “subversive monstrosity,” a “mushrooming program” that was forced upon an unwitting public through an insidious campaign of “falsehoods, deceptions, pressures, and pretenses.”

The John Birch Society published those words 50 years ago this month in their January 1969 newsletter. What atrocity spurred JBS founder Robert Welch Jr. to write this clarion call? No trigger warning is needed for this one. He was alerting his readers to the “filthy Communist plot” known as sex education.


It wasn’t just premarital and extramarital sex that stirred anxieties. So, too, did interracial sex.


Welch’s alarmist language was common currency in an organization that was known for its anti-Semitism and its espousal of conspiracy theories. They were traits that kept the Birchers’ numbers modest throughout the 1960s and ’70s — an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 members — and led to the group’s decline in later decades. The JBS, a far-right group that advocated for limited government, got its name from a Baptist missionary and military pilot who was killed by Chinese communists — an early martyr of the Cold War.

However fringe they may have been, Welch’s words signaled the beginning of intensive backlash against sex ed among a broader base of conservatives. Within months, that backlash put organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Medical Association on the defensive. As the debate raged, the NEA sought allies nationwide in churches, civic groups, and the media to save sex ed. By the following year, the NEA was reporting that sex ed programs had been “canceled, postponed, or curtailed” in 13 states and were under scrutiny in 20 state legislatures. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Daria Lohman for State Senator, LD 23

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 general election will be held November 6, 2018, with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 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!

Legislative District 23 is nearly the reddest of the red districts in Arizona, and home to communities such as Fountain Hills and East Scottsdale. Senate candidate Daria Lohman, however, not only makes her race sound winnable, she also speaks to the necessity of getting involved. Issues like education, access to affordable health care, housing, and community resources are essential to creating a resilient community.


“So many Arizonans have come to the realization that they need to be involved in the political process.”


Despite her district’s red hue, Ms. Lohman is optimistic. “I think we’ve had an awakening in this state, and that’s why I think I have a shot in a strong-red LD 23,” she said to the Northeast Valley News earlier this year. “People are paying more attention now than they used to.”

She hopes to defeat incumbent Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who has received consistently low ratings from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona and NARAL Arizona for her positions against reproductive rights, and a low rating from Stonewall Democrats of Arizona for her positions against LGBTQ equality. Ms. Lohman, whose victory would make her the first transgender elected official in Arizona’s history, personally knows what’s at stake when lawmakers don’t recognize that the right to bodily autonomy is worth fighting for, and would be a determined advocate for reproductive justice and LGBTQ equality.

Ms. Lohman has been diligently campaigning and was kind enough to take time away from the trail to answer a few questions on September 5, 2018.

Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for office right now in this political climate.

The short answer is I am running because I can’t not run.

Everything I believe in and care about could be lost. The current Legislature is making it harder to get an education and have access to health care, both of which are critical to having a decent way of life. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Confronting Sky-High STD Rates

For the past five years, Americans have been breaking records left and right — a good thing when we’re talking about athletic feats or scientific breakthroughs, but not so great when we’re shattering records for catching sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all on the upswing, with a combined 2.3 million cases in 2017 — and those are just the cases that were reported. Since most people with these infections don’t know they have them, the real number is thought to be much higher. The United States has the dubious honor of boasting the highest STD rates of all industrialized countries — though rates are also climbing in England and Western Europe.

The good news is that these three STDs are preventable and curable. Sexually active people can dramatically reduce their risk by using condoms and dental dams, or by being in mutually monogamous relationships in which partners test negative for these infections. And, because many STDs don’t show symptoms, it’s important for them to receive regular STD screening to ensure infections are caught and cured before they can do any damage.

But there’s also bad news. First, while the symptoms of these infections can be awful, they compel you to seek prompt treatment — making these awful symptoms a good thing, in a weird way. Unfortunately, most people with these infections don’t have symptoms, allowing the bacteria that cause them to spread silently from person to person. If not caught, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to chronic pain and fertility problems, and syphilis can lead to organ damage and even death. These infections can also increase HIV risk and be passed to a baby during childbirth. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Stephanie Parra for Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board, Ward 3

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 general election will be held November 6, 2018, and with early voting beginning on October 10. Voters need to be registered by October 9 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!

Phoenix Union High School District is one of the largest high school districts in the country, with 20 schools, more than 27,000 students, and nearly 3,000 employees. Phoenix Union covers 220 square miles of Arizona’s capital city.

Stephanie Parra has served on the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board for the past four years, representing PUHSD Ward 3. With Ms. Parra’s leadership, in October 2015, the Phoenix Union High School District Governing Board issued a resolution regarding inclusive comprehensive health education. Although they were proud that their newly comprehensive sex education policy was “a significant step forward,” they expressed regret that it was “not truly inclusive.” Despite the Governing Board’s wish to be inclusive of all students, including LGBTQ kids, an archaic state law — nicknamed “No Promo Homo” — has the district in a straitjacket. The school board has called this law “offensive” and “shaming,” and states that it “has no place in Arizona educational policy.”


“The more we can educate students about the importance of healthy relationships, the better prepared they will be when engaging in relationships.”


“No Promo Homo” refers to one of Arizona’s most disgraceful, archaic laws. The offensive language is planted in the HIV Prevention Education section of the law, stating that education shall not include “instruction which (1) promotes a homosexual life-style, (2) portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style, (3) suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.” To be clear: The purpose of this law is to degrade and shame students who are already at a 40 percent increased risk of suicide. It does nothing to attain educational goals or protect the health or safety of students. Only six other states — and Russia — have laws similar to Arizona’s No Promo Homo law.

On August 30, 2018, Ms. Parra was gracious enough to take time from campaigning to share some of her story and vision for PUHSD.

Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for this office in this political climate.

I have dedicated my life to improving the lives of children and families in Arizona. I began my career in social work, advocating for children at risk of abuse, and quickly learned the critical role that educators play in the lives of our youth. That realization led me to a career in education and I have now found myself serving as a full-time public school advocate. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Joe Bisaccia for State Representative, LD 12

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 early voting began on August 2. Voters need to have been 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!

Planned Parenthood supporters are in every legislative district in Arizona, including one of the reddest: Legislative District 12, which ranks behind only two other districts — 13 and 22 — as the most conservative in the state, and encompasses the San Tan Valley, cities like Gilbert, and eastern spans of Maricopa County. That didn’t stop Joe Bisaccia from getting into the race for the House of Representatives from LD 12. His is the voice we’re looking for!


“I will work for laws that ensure women retain the right to make their own health care decisions.”


Mr. Bisaccia, a middle-school robotics and technology teacher, has been on the front lines of what the Republican-run Legislature has done to shred public school funding. The impact of stripping billions — that’s “billions” with a “b” — from K-12 funding for public schools, the zeroing out of community college funding, and diverting taxpayer money to multiple “voucher” programs is felt deeply by public school teachers and their students. And, when high tech jobs opt to build and invest in other states because Arizona’s education system doesn’t elicit a lot of confidence, Arizonans are deprived of the good jobs they deserve.

As a middle school teacher, Mr. Bisaccia is also in a unique position to understand the value of medically accurate comprehensive sex education, including concepts like dating violence, consent, and anti-bullying techniques. He understands the value of having students respect personal boundaries, engage in understanding consent, and be able to make informed decisions about one’s future. He wants his kids to be successful, and medically accurate comprehensive sex education can offer ways to remain healthy and safe.

Mr. Bisaccia was gracious to enough to take a break from campaigning on July 30, 2018, to share his responses to our questions. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Matthew Marquez for State Senator, LD 20

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 early voting began on August 2. Voters need to have been 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!

Legislative District 20 represents Northwest Phoenix and is a little on the red side; however, it had one of the highest early return rates for Democratic early votes in the 2016 election and the Congressional District 8 special election has galvanized networks, voters, and Democrats — which is a new feeling for Legislative District 20.


“I want to create change with you and be a voice for you.”


There are two contenders in the state Senate race, both completing our intersectional endorsement questionnaire with a score of 100 percent. The PPAA Board of Directors brings together a wide range of community members in making election decisions. Together, they evaluate candidates and campaigns to determine how to invest the dollars of our donors — and the sweat of our volunteers. PPAA supports candidates willing to stand and fight with Planned Parenthood, and given the current political environment with the reactivation of so many grassroots voters, we’re looking to Matthew Marquez to take the Senate seat in Legislative District 20, which is currently held by Sen. Michelle Yee, an infamous opponent of Planned Parenthood.

Mr. Marquez was gracious enough to share his responses with us as he took a break from campaigning on July 30, 2018.

Please tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for office right now in this political climate.

My story begins here, in Phoenix, with my mother. As a single parent, she took on the role of both my mother and my father, working several jobs but still making sure she was there in the morning to take us to school. She took my brother and I to all our practices and games, and supported us wholeheartedly. I don’t know how she did it but I know we had what we needed. My story, unfortunately, is not unique. Continue reading