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No, you shouldn't need a doctor to get birth control. Just look at Oregon.

Oregon and California now allow for women to get the birth control pill without a prescription. Will other states follow?

No, you shouldn't need a doctor to get birth control. Just look at Oregon.

In its more than 55-year history, birth control pills have been available only by prescription in the U.S.

And in that time, the pill has become the go-to contraceptive choice for sexually active women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 4 in 5 sexually experienced women have at one point taken the pill. It's considered highly effective, with a more than 90% success rate.

Still, despite its popularity and track record of relative safety, the process of actually acquiring hormonal contraceptives has required women to get prescriptions.


Planned Parenthood publicity director Marcia Goldstein looks at New York bus ads in December 1967. Services like those provided by Planned Parenthood have helped low-income women access birth control for decades. Photo by H. William Tetlow/Fox Photos/Getty Images.

For women in Oregon who use the pill, getting a refill just got a lot easier.

In July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed House Bill 2879 into law, granting pharmacists the right to dispense oral contraception without a prescription. That law went into action Jan. 1, making Oregon the first in the nation to cut out the middleman (the doctor) in this low-risk transaction.

"Oregon has the rare opportunity to drive the national conversation around women’s health, family security, and poverty," said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Knute Buehler. "This will become landmark legislation that reduces unplanned pregnancies, gives women more control, and affirms Oregon’s reputation as a leader in health care innovation."

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill into law on July 6, 2015. Photo by Matt Mills McKnight-Pool/Getty Images.

21% of low-income women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy are likely to use the pill if it's available without a prescription.

That's according to a 2015 study published in the health journal Contraception. Additionally, researchers found that making the pill available for free and without a prescription would reduce the number of women using no birth control or less effective methods by 20-36% and bring down the number of unintended pregnancies by 7-25%.

Fewer unintended pregnancies is a win for everyone.

Photo from iStock.

The new law also makes additional training available for pharmacists.

Some of the law's opponents have expressed concern that pharmacists may not be equipped to handle certain situations. After all, if the pill has required a prescription all this time, there must be a reason for that, right?

"Oregon has the rare opportunity to drive the national conversation around women’s health, family security, and poverty." — State Rep. Knute Buehler

Well, it's not as though the pill isn't without some risk — all medications have some risk of side effects. It is possible that hormonal birth control can lead to blood clots, heart attack, high blood pressure, or stroke — and it's important to take those risks seriously.

But that's not reason enough to keep the pill hidden behind a doctor's prescription pad. After all, other safe medications have made the shift from prescription-only to over-the-counter — such as Flonase, Nexium, Allegra, Zyrtec, Mucinex, Claritin, nicotine patches, and, well, you get the point.

To assuage those concerns, the bill's supporters included a provision that will ensure pharmacists are qualified and informed on the topic of birth control, side effects, and risk factors.

Photo by iStock.

Other states aren't far behind Oregon.

In 2013, California passed a similar bill. Ever since, the state's Board of Pharmacy has worked to develop a plan of action for pharmacists. Beginning Jan. 1, pharmacists in California began dispensing birth control without a doctor's prescription. California's plan differs from Oregon's in a few minor ways, but the sentiment is the same: one less barrier to women's health care.

Lawmakers in Colorado and Washington also have taken up similar legislation.

Photo by iStock.

As other states put additional restrictions on reproductive health care, Oregon, California, Colorado, and Washington stand out for doing the opposite.

In a time when reproductive health care is under attack in many states, it's heartening to know some are doing what they can to expand access to essential, vital care. If Oregon's and California's new laws wind up being successes, there's hope other states will follow suit.

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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."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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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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