Meet Our Candidates: Jennifer Pawlik for State Representative, LD 17

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!

Two years ago, when Jennifer Pawlik first ran for a seat in the Arizona House, the voters she met often doubted her chances of winning in such a red district. Pawlik lives in Legislative District 17, which spans the communities of Chandler, Sun Lakes, and part of Gilbert. Republicans have controlled LD 17’s House seats since the mid-1960s — and they’ve had a longstanding hold on its Senate seat as well.

Pawlik lost in a close race, though, and in this year’s election — her second bid to represent her district — she has seen growing optimism among her supporters. What has motivated Pawlik in both elections has been a desire to stand up for education in the state’s Legislature. A veteran educator herself, her concerns over education cuts prompted her to run in 2016. After this year’s #RedForEd movement, her platform resonates even more strongly today.


“I am fighting for access to affordable health care and affordable college education.”


For Pawlik, education is the foundation for everything that matters in this state. As she told the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, “a well-educated workforce and excellent schools” will help attract businesses to Arizona — and prepare Arizonans to develop “innovative solutions … to address issues of drought, solar power, air pollution, and mass transit.”

Pawlik also sees public health as a key foundation for a better Arizona. Addressing poverty and improving access to health care are additional priorities she would take to the Legislature. Her commitment to Arizona’s health is why Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is included in the long list of endorsements she’s received. Pawlik generously took the time to tell us more about her background and her candidacy on September 13.

Please tell us a little about your background.

I am an Arizona native, and a product of Arizona’s public schools. I’m an educator who has taught in Arizona’s public elementary schools for 17 years, and I am now teaching individuals enrolled in Northern Arizona University’s College of Education. In my final years in the classroom, some of my colleagues broke their contracts and left the field of education because they couldn’t afford to continue teaching. Many of us who continued to teach picked up other jobs outside of our contract time so that we could pay our bills. I decided that I needed to do something rather than just complain. In 2016, I decided to run for the Arizona House so I can make a positive impact on the way we fund our public schools. Despite losing that race by only 2.5 percent, I consider our work to be a small victory for my district because we were finally close to a win after years and years of work. My team and I took off just six weeks after the election and got back to work in January 2017. We have been actively contacting as many voters as possible since that time. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Athena Salman for State Representative, LD 26

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!

Legislative District 26 is a magnet for people who care about Arizona’s most pressing issues: reproductive justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, and strong public education. Given the deep pool of talent from which this district draws, it has a history of exciting legislators who fight for these values at the Capitol. Athena Salman is no exception. After a successful first term, she is running for reelection in order to continue representing her district, which includes Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.


“If we don’t remain diligent in protecting our rights, then the discrimination we see now will pale in comparison to what’s down the pipeline.”


When Salman began her first term in 2017, she soon joined women from both parties in accusing Rep. Don Shooter (R-Yuma) of sexual harassment. The story ended in February, when the House voted 56 to 3 to expel Rep. Shooter, an event that marked the first time a state lawmaker was ousted from office in the #MeToo era. Around the same time, Salman was making headlines for spearheading the #LetItFlow campaign, bringing awareness to female prisoners’ lack of adequate access to menstrual hygiene products. In both instances, Salman centered her actions on protecting the dignity of women everywhere in the state.

Thanks to her passionate advocacy for these and other issues during her first two years in office, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona is pleased to endorse Rep. Salman for a second term. She took the time to respond to our questions on September 18, 2018.

Since we last spoke, 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?

My entire life, my mother’s entire life, even my grandmother’s entire life, for as long as we can remember, women have been harassed and shamed for exercising our constitutional right to reproductive health care and self-determination.

However, from #MeToo to #TimesUp we are seeing women from all backgrounds uniting and saying “Enough is enough!” With Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance, women are raising our voices in the one place where we are truly equal, the ballot, and making sure we are being heard loud and clear. Need proof? This primary election alone saw women in Maricopa County outnumber men in early voting by 65,000. As several have already stated, the future is female. 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

The Kennedy Retirement and the Radicalizing of the Supreme Court

Protesters swarmed Washington, DC, to voice their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh.

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, alarms went up about overturning Roe v. Wade, which would make abortion once again illegal in many states. As shown in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote overturning Texas’ draconian laws limiting abortion access, one justice can preserve the right to abortion. But Kennedy also voted with the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, when the Supreme Court upheld a state’s right to impose extra requirements — mandatory counseling, waiting periods, etc. — on those seeking abortions. So, while he was willing to curtail access, he never was willing to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.


In Brett Kavanaugh’s twisted worldview, paperwork is the true burden, while an unwanted pregnancy is not.


But Kennedy was the last independent conservative on the Supreme Court. Anyone Trump nominated was going to be on the far right because he was using the Federalist Society’s list compiled by Leonard Leo. Not quite a kingmaker, but definitely a justice-maker, Leo is also responsible for Justices Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch.

But some on the right have some doubts about Kavanaugh. In response, the National Review emphasizes Kavanaugh’s judicial defense of “religious freedom.” (Nothing shows the real danger Kavanaugh poses like pundits on the far right reassuring other conservatives.) They lauded Kavanaugh’s ruling in favor of the Trump administration in the case of Jane Doe, the teenage immigrant the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tried to stop from having an abortion, as “the latest in a long, unbroken line of consistent decisions on issues of religion and abortion.” Continue reading

Sons Speak About Mom’s Abortion

“Mom, did you ever have an abortion?” It’s a simple question. Karen Thurston’s sons, Kevin and Stephen, never asked. Why would they? What would possibly make them even think to ask?

Thurston Family

Karen Thurston and her sons Kevin (left) and Stephen. Photo taken the day Karen told them about her 1973 abortion, courtesy of Karen Thurston.

On the flip side, why did Karen never speak to her sons about her teenage experiences with abortion care? Because, for decades, Karen heeded the advice of her father, who had arranged for her 1973 procedure when she was just 13: “You must never, ever, as long as you live, tell anyone you had an abortion, not even your husband when you are grown.”

In 2013, though, she did tell her sons, and now tells her story forcefully, publicly, and with great compassion to chip away at the stigma associated with abortion care.

Consider now Kevin’s and Stephen’s reactions:

Kevin: I first learned of my mom’s abortion story when I was 23 years old. My mom asked me if it would be possible for the two of us to fly to Pittsburgh and meet my older brother there for dinner. My brother and I could both tell that this wasn’t just a whimsical get-together; there was something she wanted to talk about. That’s when she shared her story. We could tell it really pained her. Not only was the story difficult to tell on its own, but she was clearly afraid of our reaction. Even after raising us our whole lives, after being closer to us than anyone we’d ever known, she didn’t know if she could trust us to understand, and I think that speaks to how cruel stigmatization is. It is so isolating for women who’ve made that choice that they do not even see allies in their families or the children they do go on to raise. 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

Five Things to Know About the Morning-After Pill on Its 20th Anniversary

Medication portion of PREVEN Emergency Contraceptive Kit. Photo: Smithsonian Institution

In 1993, the New York Times Magazine posited that the morning-after pill might be “the best-kept contraceptive secret in America.” Even many doctors had no idea there was a fallback contraceptive that could be used shortly after unprotected sex or cases of rape.

In many ways, the morning-after pill had been right in front of U.S. doctors for decades. In terms of chemical composition, it was not much different from standard birth control, using the same main ingredients — synthetic hormones — in higher doses. Moreover, many of their colleagues in Europe and Asia had already been prescribing morning-after pills for years.


In 1998, years of research and advocacy led to the first FDA-approved morning-after pill.


Here, however, the secret was still largely intact. A 1994 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that two-thirds of American women had never heard of the morning-after pill or other forms of emergency contraception (EC). Less than 1 percent had ever used them.

There was an information shortfall in large part because there was no contraceptive that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifically for emergency use. Some providers worked around that absence by using the chemically similar estrogen and progestin medications that were approved for regular birth control. By upping the dosage, they created a suitable morning-after pill on their own. But drug makers couldn’t label or market those birth-control pills for emergency, post-coital use, since they weren’t FDA-approved for that purpose. It also spelled problems for federally funded clinics. Federal dollars couldn’t pay for an off-label medication hack, a makeshift morning-after pill that wasn’t officially approved. Continue reading