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Can spa-like surroundings help reduce the stigma surrounding abortion?

1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime, so why is there still so much stigma attached to it?

Can spa-like surroundings help reduce the stigma surrounding abortion?

It's been more than 40 years since Roe v. Wade. And it seems like the fight over the right to have an abortion is more intense than ever.

Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court case that cleared up the question of whether someone has the right to an abortion. As time has gone on, however, opponents of abortion rights have managed to carve out more and more loopholes to make abortion almost impossible to actually get.

The fight against abortion rights has heated up in the past few years.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there have been 231 new state-level restrictions on abortion since 2011, coming in several forms: bans on abortions past a certain number of weeks, harsh new regulations that make it nearly impossible to keep a clinic in operation, waiting periods, and forced ultrasounds, among other tactics.


10 states restrict private insurance, the health care marketplace, and Medicaid from covering abortion (dark orange below). 14 states have limits on Medicaid and the insurance marketplace (lighter orange), and nine states limit Medicaid coverage (yellow).

That leaves just 17 states without state-level insurance restrictions.

In other words, it's becoming significantly more difficult to access insurance coverage that covers certain reproductive health care.

On top of all this, there's a massive amount of stigma that comes with having an abortion.

There seems to be a sliding scale of what people view to be "acceptable" versus "unacceptable" abortions, based on how the pregnancy happened.

Reproductive rights activist Katie Klabusich spoke with me on the stigma of abortion.

First, I wanted to know why it's so important to fight stigma.

In response, she explained that not only is stigma harmful to the rights of someone seeking an abortion, but it's also dehumanizing.

"Once we aren't categorizing abortions into 'good abortions' and 'bad abortions' and recognize pregnant people as fully human rather than public property, we can demand widespread access-increasing laws and policies."
— Katie Klabusich

She added that it's stigma that fuels the legal restrictions. If people who have had abortions are afraid to speak up, only the voices strongly against the procedure are heard.

"We're never going to see an end to the onslaught of anti-choice laws and abortion provider harassment and violence until our culture shifts. Anti-choice groups and legislators rely on stigma and the silence it brings to pass harmful laws and dress harassment up in the First Amendment."
— Katie Klabusich

When it comes to fighting stigma, one innovative method comes from Carafem, an abortion provider opening near Washington, D.C., this year.

The clinic hopes to create a "spa-like" atmosphere for its clients and makes no bones about what it offers. The ads say, simply: "Abortion. Yeah, we do that."


Organizations like Advocates for Youth, with their #1in3 campaign, and the Sea Change program collect stories and raise awareness in their stigma-reducing efforts.

Reducing stigma is largely about reducing the shame and secrecy involved with an abortion. By having real people tell real stories of how and why they decided to undergo the procedure, a human face is put on what's otherwise seen as a somewhat cold, hushed act.

Fighting stigma can be as simple as speaking up.

Again, talking with Katie, I asked what everyday people could do to help reduce stigma. She says there are three distinct things people can do to fight stigma.

Share your experiences.

"If you have had an abortion and it is safe for you to talk to friends and family about your experience, your words humanize what should be seen as a common medical procedure. You don't have to sit everyone down for story time, just refute assumptions by matter-of-factly offering that you have had an abortion and it wasn't at all the way they're describing."
— Katie Klabusich


Create a safe space for people around you.

"Being available to listen is about creating a safe space. One in three people born with a uterus in this country will have an abortion in their lifetime — which means you know people who have had an abortion and people who will have one. When those people in your life hear you call out stigmatizing media and incorrect information being passed around at the office or the Thanksgiving table, you make it clear that you are available to hear and support them."
— Katie Klabusich

Finally, don't forget about reducing sexual stigma. There's nothing wrong with having sex, and there's nothing wrong with choosing to have an abortion.

"Humanizing reproductive health care is doubly challenging because we have to force our rather puritanical culture to recognize that sex is not just for procreation in a marital bed. For some, admitting that the act that got them pregnant was purely for recreation is a bigger hurdle than admitting they terminated the pregnancy. So, if you're not comfortable speaking out directly on abortion misinformation but are comfortable busting some sexual stigma, that helps too!"
— Katie Klabusich

No matter where you fall on the debate over abortion rights, can't we all agree that people shouldn't be shamed about their personal medical decisions?

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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."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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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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