Doctor's Orders

U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona talks about women's health, abortion and the DREAM Act

Democrat Richard Carmona is seeking the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. A decorated Vietnam veteran who went on to become a trauma surgeon, work on Pima County's SWAT team and serve as surgeon general in the George W. Bush administration, Carmona will face the winner of the Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake and businessman Wil Cardon.

Last week, the Carmona campaign touted a Public Policy Polling survey that showed him trailing Flake by just 2 percentage points. The Weekly spoke with Carmona around that time. For more on the poll and the entire interview with Carmona, visit The Range, the Weekly's daily dispatch.

One of the things you've been talking about in your campaign is women's health care. What are you seeing that you're concerned about?

What I'm seeing, in general, in a state that's struggling with some of the highest foreclosures, that's ranked among the worst educational systems in the country now, has significant immigration problems, is in a health crisis of its own for funding AHCCCS and health care—our Legislature chooses to legislate contraception. Is that not a breach of fiduciary responsibility? Is it not malfeasance? It just makes no sense to me. You're politicizing health issues. Anytime you deny any person—in this case, we're talking about women, but whether it's children, whether it's adults, whether it's seniors—when you create a barrier to access to health care, the results are predictable. Your morbidity will go up; your mortality will go up; and ultimately the cost of that health care will go up, because you'll just show up later at the emergency room with a problem that could have been taken care of much earlier. Federal law says that hospitals must see you when you come for an emergency, so the hospitals then absorb the cost, and physicians absorb the cost. So the cost is just redistributed. But the real issue to me, as (a former) surgeon general, is creating barriers to health care results in deleterious health outcomes, period.

State lawmakers also came up with some new restrictions on abortion, such as how late in a pregnancy a woman could have an abortion, and new rules about whether doctors have to inform expecting women about birth defects. What is your general stance on abortion?

It's a decision that should be made between a woman and her physician. Period. We should not have elected officials, on either side of the aisle, telling a woman how she should practice her reproductive health care. That just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The discussion should take place between the patient in need and the expert in the field, who is the physician or the nurse practitioner—a health professional who provides the care. ... If you really want to solve the problem—which is unwanted pregnancies that result in abortions—if you increase access to health care for women, what happens? The amount of unwanted pregnancies goes down, and the question of abortion becomes moot. Shouldn't we all be working for that endpoint? Each side looks at it differently, but, ultimately, no woman wants an unwanted pregnancy. And there's a whole host of reasons why that happens. But if we ensure that everyone has access to unrestricted reproductive health care ... over time, the expected outcome would be that unwanted pregnancies will drop, and, therefore, abortions will drop and ultimately become moot.

Your experience growing up in New York City informed who you are today, and you've spoken a little bit about that. Can you touch on that?

Being in a poor family, your parents struggling to make the rent every week, not always getting food at night, sleeping with your clothes on when it's cold—it does sensitize you to the extraordinary challenges of lots of families in our society today. So we call that the social determinates of health today: Where you live, what your parents make, the level of education—all of those ultimately determine your health outcome. ... My grandmother and my mother were very powerful people in my life, who helped me understand my place in society, and that I could achieve almost anything I wanted if I worked hard. I disappointed them, as did my brothers and sisters—we dropped out of school and all of that. But ultimately, the Army saved me. I got my GED; I got my GI Bill; I got into college only because of an open-enrollment program at a junior college. Otherwise, I couldn't have gotten in. ... So somebody had the forethought to see there are young men and women out there who deserve a second chance, who have the potential, who can contribute human capital to society, versus leaving them out there, and they become liabilities to the system. To me, again, as I look at the DREAM Act, as I look at some of these things, I think I had my own version of the DREAM Act. Somebody said, "We'll give you a chance, kid. And if you pass, you can stay here. You can graduate, and you can go on to be anything you want to be." And I did.

You said President Obama's order not to prosecute some young people in the country without documentation was "long overdue."

I think it's been politicized for too long. If you remember back a couple of years ago—four, five, six, I can't remember—President Bush and Senator (Edward) Kennedy came together on this issue. They talked about a pathway to citizenship. And they introduced legislation in Congress. And, quite frankly, Sen. (John) McCain and Congressman Flake supported it. Now it's not politically convenient to support it. But they got onboard, and they said, "Let's do this." Congress failed. You had two diametrically opposed politicians on almost every issue who came together in the spirit of democracy and said, "Let's just solve the problem." ... So I thought that was really democracy in practice. And for those kids who are here and find out at age 18 that they don't have papers? Why should we deport them and separate them from their families? Let them finish school. Help them go to college. Hope that they have the next great idea to add to a diversified workforce.

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