19 things I trust with women's health more than this room full of men.

The future of health care in the U.S. hangs in the balance, but there's no need to worry. After all, we have top men working on it right now — emphasis on "men."

As the House of Representatives works on crafting a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, the internet couldn't help but notice just how overwhelmingly male the bill's architects seem to be.

For example, take this photo of Vice President Pence meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus:

Women make up half the population and will almost certainly feel the effects of whatever bill gets passed "bigly," which makes it kind of weird that there aren't any women involved in this conversation.

A group of men deciding what's best for women makes about as much sense as leaving these types of choices in the hands of...

1. This ferocious beast


Photo via iStock.

2. A bundle of twigs

Photo via iStock.

3. A litter of puppies

Photo via iStock.

4. A single ripe banana

Photo via iStock.

5. A flock of seagulls

Photo via iStock.

6. A Flock of Seagulls (the band)

Photo via Everett Collection.

7. A pile of pencils

Photo via iStock.

8. The 1973 Miami Dolphins

Bob Griese of the Dolphins takes a snap during Super Bowl VII. Photo by Tony Tomsic, via AP.

9. These hardworking deer at the office

Photo via iStock.

10. A rock band of grandmas

Photo via iStock.

11. This business pug

Photo via iStock.

12. This elephant on a tightrope

Photo via iStock.

13. Robots

Photo via iStock.

14. A child riding a farm animal

Photo via iStock.

15. A small fish with big ambitions

Photo via iStock.

16. These rebellious children

Photo via iStock.

17. A bowl of mashed potatoes

Photo via iStock.

18. This family trying to make sense of a hospital bill

Photo via iStock.

19. Or a pool floaty.

Photo via iStock.

(If only there were some women in Congress who could have been consulted...?)

Nah. They'd probably be too emotional about it. 65 House Democratic women elected to the 114th Congress gather for a photo on Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Leaving women out of the negotiation process is especially egregious given that one of the main issues being discussed in that photo above was whether to gut things like maternity and prenatal care.

The Affordable Care Act considers these services "Essential Health Benefits" (EHBs), a term that includes things like maternity and prenatal care as well as preventive care like mammograms and Pap tests and, you know, just a bunch of things that pretty directly affect a whole lot of women.

Earlier this month, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) lamented the fact that EHBs mean men have to purchase plans that cover prenatal care. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) sarcastically joked, "I sure don’t want my mammogram benefits taken away," when asked about the possibility of scrapping the EHB requirement. (He later apologized.)

Image from CNN/YouTube.

Essential Health Benefits are way important, people! If we're going to be redefining what "essential" means, that debate has to  be open to more than just a handful of guys.

Over the coming days, weeks, and maybe even months, our members of Congress are going to be considering things like this (and much, much more). And while there's nothing we can do to influence who's in "the room where it happens," we can all use our voices in other ways. For instance, you can call your representative to let them know they should leave EHBs alone, using a service like 5 Calls. Or you can fax your members of Congress using Resist Bot to let them know you're not on board with a plan that will bump as many as 24 million people off their insurance.

It's up to all of us to make our voices heard. After all, if you're not OK with the business pug making decisions about your health care, then what makes a room full of men any more qualified?

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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