How the nursing shortage may lead to gaps in sexual assault care | CNN


Missoula, Montana
KFF Health News
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Jacqueline Towarnicki got a text as she finished her day shift at a local clinic. She had a new case, a patient covered in bruises who couldn’t remember how the injuries got there.

Towarnicki’s breath caught, a familiar feeling after four years of working night shifts as a sexual assault nurse examiner in this northwestern Montana city.

“You almost want to curse,” Towarnicki, 38, said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, no, it’s happening.’”

These nights on duty are Towarnicki’s second job. She’s on call once a week and a weekend a month. A survivor may need protection against sexually transmitted infections, medicine to avoid getting pregnant, or evidence collected to prosecute their attacker. Or all the above.

When her phone rings, it’s typically in the middle of the night. Towarnicki tiptoes down the stairs of her home to avoid waking her young son, as her half-asleep husband whispers encouragement into the dark.

Her breath is steady by the time she changes into the clothes she laid out close to her back door before going to bed. She grabs her nurse’s badge and drives to First Step Resource Center, a clinic that offers round-the-clock care for people who have been assaulted.

She wants her patients to know they’re out of danger.

“You meet people in some of their most horrifying, darkest, terrifying times,” Towarnicki said. “Being with them and then seeing who they are when they leave, you don’t get that doing any other job in health care.”

A former travel nurse who lived out of a van for years, Towarnicki is OK with the uncertainty that comes with being a sexual assault nurse examiner.

Most examiners work on-call shifts in addition to full-time jobs. They often work alone and at odd hours. They can collect evidence that could be used in court, are trained to recognize and respond to trauma, and provide care to protect their patients’ bodies from lasting effects of sexual assault.

But their numbers are few.

As many as 80% of U.S. hospitals don’t have sexual assault nurse examiners, often because they either can’t find them or can’t afford them. Nurses struggle to find time for shifts, especially when staffing shortages mean covering long hours. Sexual assault survivors may have to leave their town or even their state to see an examiner.

Gaps in sexual assault care can span hundreds of miles in rural areas. A program in Glendive, Montana — a town of nearly 5,000 residents 35 miles from the North Dakota border — stopped taking patients for examinations this spring. It didn’t have enough nurses to respond to cases.

“These are the same nurses working in the ER, where a heart attack patient could come in,” said Teresea Olson, 56, who is the town’s part-time mayor and also picked up on-call shifts. “The staff was exhausted.”

The next closest option is 75 miles away in Miles City, adding at least an hour to the travel time for patients, some of whom already had to travel hours to reach Glendive.

Nationwide, policymakers have been slow to offer training, funding, and support for the work. Some states and health facilities are trying to expand access to sexual assault response programs.

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a bill to hire a statewide sexual assault coordinator tasked with expanding training and recruiting workers. A Montana law that takes effect July 1 will create a sexual assault response network within the Montana Department of Justice. The new program aims to set standards for that care, provide in-state training, and connect examiners statewide. It will also look at telehealth to fill in gaps, following the example of hospitals in South Dakota and Colorado.

There’s no national tally of where nurses have been trained to respond to sexual assaults, meaning a survivor may not know they have to travel for treatment until they’re sitting in an emergency room or police department.

Sarah Wangerin, a nursing instructor with Montana State University and former examiner, said patients reeling from an attack may instead just go home. For some, leaving town isn’t an option.

This spring, Wangerin called county hospitals and sheriff’s offices to map where sexual assault nurse examiners operate in Montana. She found only 55. More than half of the 45 counties that responded didn’t have any examiners. Just seven counties reported they had nurses trained to respond to cases that involve children.

“We’re failing people,” Wangerin said. “We’re re-traumatizing them by not knowing what to do.”

First Step, in Missoula, is one of the few full-time sexual assault response programs in the state. It’s operated by Providence St. Patrick Hospital but is separate from the main building.

The clinic’s walls are adorned with drawings by kids and mountain landscapes. The staff doesn’t turn on the harsh overhead fluorescent lights, choosing instead to light the space with softer lamps. The lobby includes couches and a rocking chair. There are always heated blankets and snacks on hand.

Kate Harrison turns on her pager at the start of her night shift as a sexual assualt nurse examiner.

First Step stands out for having nurses who stay. Kate Harrison waited roughly a year to join the clinic and is still there three years later, in part because of the staff support.

The specially trained team works together so no one carries too heavy a load. While being on night shift means opening the clinic alone, staffers can debrief tough cases together. They attend group therapy for secondhand trauma.

Harrison is a cardiac hospital nurse during the day, a job that sometimes feels a little too stuck to a clock.

At First Step, she can shift into whatever role her patient needs for as long as they need. Once, that meant sitting for hours on a floor in the lobby of the clinic as a patient cried and talked. Another time, Harrison doubled as a DJ for a nervous patient during an exam, picking music off her cellphone.

“It’s in the middle of the night, she just had this sexual assault happen, and we were just laughing and singing to Shaggy,” Harrison said. “You have this freedom and grace to do that.”

When the solo work is overwhelming or she’s had back-to-back cases and needs a break, she knows a co-worker would be willing to help.

“This work can take you to the undercurrents and the underbelly of society sometimes,” Harrison said. “It takes a team.”

That includes co-workers like Towarnicki, who dropped her work hours at her day job after having her son to keep working as a sexual assault nurse examiner. That meant adding three years to her student loan repayment schedule. Now, pregnant with her second child, the work still feels worth it, she said.

On a recent night, Towarnicki was alone in the clinic, clicking through photos she took of her last patient. The patient opted against filing a police report but asked Towarnicki to log all the evidence just in case.

Towarnicki quietly counted out loud the number of bruises, their sizes and locations, as she took notes. She tells patients who have gaps in their memories that she can’t speculate how each mark got there or give them all the answers they deserve.

But as she sat in the blue light of her computer screen long after her patient left, it was hard to keep from ruminating.

“Totally looks like a hand mark,” Towarnicki said, suddenly loud, as she shook her head.

All the evidence and her patient’s story were sealed and locked away, just feet from a wall of thank-you cards from patients and sticky notes of encouragement among nurses.

On the harder evenings, Towarnicki takes a moment to unwind with a pudding cup from the clinic’s snacks. Most often, she can let go of her patient’s story as she closes the clinic. Part of her healing is “seeing the light returned to people’s eyes, seeing them be able to breathe deeper,” which she said happens 19 out of 20 times.

“There is that one out of 20 where I go home and I am spinning,” Towarnicki said. In those cases, it takes hearing her son’s voice, and time to process, to pull her back. “I feel like if it’s not hard sometimes, maybe you shouldn’t be doing this work.”

It was a little after 11 p.m. as Towarnicki headed home, an early night. She knew her phone could go off again.

Eight more hours on call.

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These women ran an underground abortion network in the 1960s. Here’s what they fear might happen today | CNN



CNN
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The voice on the phone in 1966 was gruff and abrupt: “Do you want the Chevy, the Cadillac or the Rolls Royce?”

A Chevy abortion would cost about $200, cash in hand, the voice explained. A Cadillac was around $500, and the Rolls Royce was $1,000.

“You can’t afford more than the Chevy? Fine,” the voice growled. “Go to this address at this time. Don’t be late and don’t forget the cash.” The voice disappeared.

Dorie Barron told CNN she recalls staring blankly at the phone in her hand, startled by the sudden empty tone. Then it hit her: She had just arranged an illegal abortion with the Chicago Mafia.

The motel Barron was sent to was in an unfamiliar part of Chicago, a scary “middle of nowhere,” she said. She was told to go to a specific room, sit on the bed and wait. Suddenly three men and a woman came in the door.

“I was petrified. They spoke all of three sentences to me the entire time: ‘Where’s the money?’ ‘Lie back and do as I tell you.’ And finally ‘Get in the bathroom,’” when the abortion was over, Barron said. “Then all of a sudden they were gone.”

Bleeding profusely, Barron managed to find a cab to take her home. When the bleeding didn’t stop, her bed-ridden mother made her go to the hospital.

At 24, Barron was taking care of her ailing mother and her 2-year-old daughter when she discovered she was pregnant. Her boyfriend, who had no job and lived with his parents, “freaked,” said Barron, who appears in a recent HBO documentary. The boyfriend suggested she get an abortion. She had never considered that option.

“But what was I to do? My mom was taking care of my daughter from her bed while I worked — they would read and play games until I got home,” Barron said.”How was either of us going to cope with a baby?

“Looking back, I realize I was taking my life in my hands,” said Barron, now an 81-year-old grandmother. “To this day it gives me chills. If I had died, what in God’s green earth would have happened to my mom and daughter?”

Women in the 1960s endured restrictions relatively unknown to women today. The so-called “fairer sex” could not serve on juries and often could not get an Ivy League education. Women earned about half as much as a man doing the same job and were seldom promoted.

Women could not get a credit card unless they were married — and then only if their husband co-signed. The same applied to birth control — only the married need apply. More experienced women shared a workaround with the uninitiated: “Go to Woolworth, buy a cheap wedding-type ring and wear it to your doctor’s appointment. And don’t forget to smile.”

Marital rape wasn’t legally considered rape. And, of course, women had no legal right to terminate a pregnancy until four states — Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Washington — legalized abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land.

Illinois had no such protection, said Heather Booth, a lifelong feminist activist and political strategist: “Three people discussing having an abortion in Chicago in 1965 was a conspiracy to commit felony murder.”

Despite that danger, a courageous band of young women — most in their 20’s, some in college, some married with children — banded together in Chicago to create an underground abortion network. The group was officially created in 1969 as the “Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation.”

But after running ads in an underground newspaper: “Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane,” each member of the group answered the phone as “Jane.”

Despite their youth, members of Jane managed to run an illegal abortion service dedicated to each woman's needs.
From left: Martha Scott, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith and Madeline Schwenk.

“We were co-conspirators with the women who called us,” said 75-year-old Laura Kaplan, who published a book about the service in 1997 entitled “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service.”

“We’ll protect you; we hope you’ll protect us,” Kaplan said. “We’ll take care of you; we hope you’ll take care of us.”

What started as referrals to legitimate abortion providers changed to personalized service when some members of Jane learned to safely do the abortions themselves. Between the late 1960s and 1973, the year that the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, Jane had arranged or performed over 11,000 abortions.

“Our culture is always searching for heroes,” said Kaplan. “But you don’t have to be a hero to do extraordinary things. Jane was just ordinary people working together — and look what we could accomplish, which is amazing, right?”

Even after several members were caught and arrested, the group continued to provide abortions for women too poor to travel to states where abortion had been legalized.

“I prayed a lot. I didn’t want to go to jail,” said 80-year-old Marie Learner, who allowed the Janes to perform abortions at her apartment.

“Some of us had little children. Some were the sole breadwinners in their home,” Learner said. “It was fearlessness in the face of overwhelming odds.”

Marie Learner opened her home to women undergoing abortions. Her neighbors knew, she said, but did not tell police.

The story of Jane has been immortalized in Kaplan’s book, numerous print articles, a 2022 movie, “Call Jane,” starring Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver, and a documentary on HBO (which, like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery).

Today the historical tale of Jane has taken on a new significance. After the 2022 Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade and the mid-term takeover of the US House of Representatives by Republicans, emboldened conservative lawmakers and judges have acted on their anti-abortion beliefs.

Currently more than a dozen states have banned or imposed severe restrictions on abortion. Georgia has banned abortions after six weeks, even though women are typically unaware they are pregnant at that stage. In mid-April, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would ban most abortions after six weeks. It won’t go into effect until the state Supreme Court overturns its previous precedent on abortion. Several other states are considering similar legislation. In other states, judicial battles are underway to protect abortion access.

“It’s a horrific situation right now. People will be harmed, some may even die,” said Booth, who helped birth the Jane movement while in college.

“Women without family support, without the information they need, may be isolated and either harm themselves looking to end an unwanted pregnancy or will be harmed because they went to an unscrupulous and illegal provider,” said Booth, now 77.

A key difference between the 60s and today is medication abortion, which 54% of people in the United States used to end a pregnancy in 2022. Available via prescription and through the mail, use of the drugs is two-fold: A person takes a first pill, mifepristone, to block the hormone needed for a pregnancy to continue.  A day or two later, the patient takes a second drug, misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract, creating the cramping and bleeding of labor.

In early April a Texas judge, US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk – a Trump appointee who has been vocal about his anti-abortion stance — suspended the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone despite 23 years of data showing the drug is safe to use, safer even than penicillin or Viagra.

On Friday, the Supreme Court froze the ruling and a subsequent decision by the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals at the request of the Justice Department and the drug manufacturer. The action allows access to mifepristone in states where it’s legal until appeals play out over the months to come.

However, 15 states currently restrict access to medication abortion, even by mail.

The actions of anti-abortion activists, who have been accused of “judge shopping” to get the decisions they want, is “an unprecedented attack on democracy meant to undermine the will of the vast majority of Americans who want this pill — mifepristone — to remain legal and available,” Heather Booth told CNN.

“This is a further weaponization of the courts to brazenly advance the end goal of banning abortion entirely,” she added.

If women in her day could have had access to medications that could be used safely in their homes, they would not have been forced to risk their lives, said Dorie Barron, thinking back to her own terrifying abortion in a sketchy Chicago motel.

“I’m depressed as hell, watching stupid, indifferent men control and destroy women’s lives all over again,” she said. “I really fear getting an abortion could soon be like 1965.”

Chicago college student Heather Booth had just finished a summer working with civil rights activists in Mississippi when she was asked to help with a different kind of injustice.

Heather Booth, 18, with civil rights heroine Fannie Lou Hamer during

A girl in another dorm was considering suicide because she was pregnant. Booth, who excelled at both organization and chutzpah, found a local doctor and negotiated an abortion for the girl. Word spread quickly.

“There were about 100 women a week calling for help, much more than one person could handle,” Booth said. “I recruited about 12 other people and began training them how to do the counseling.”

Counseling was a key part of the new service. This was a time when people “barely spoke about sex, how women’s bodies functioned or even how people got pregnant,” Booth said. To help each woman understand what was going to happen to them, Booth quizzed the abortion provider about every aspect of the procedure.

“What do you do in advance? Will it be painful? How painful? Can you walk afterwards? Do you need someone to be with you to take you home?” The questions continued: “What amount of bleeding is expected, and can a woman handle it on their own? If there’s a problem is there an urgent number they can call?”

Armed with details few if any physicians provided, the counselors at Jane could fully inform each caller about the abortion experience. The group even published a flyer describing the procedure, long before the groundbreaking 1970 book “Our Bodies, Ourselves” began to educate women about their sexuality and health.

“I don’t particularly like doctors because I always feel dissatisfied with the experience,” said Marie Learner, who spoke to many of the women who underwent an abortion at her home.

“But after their abortion at Jane, women told me, ‘Wow, that was the best experience I’ve ever had with people helping me with a medical issue.’”

Eileen Smith, now 73, was one of those women. “Jane made you feel like you were part of this bigger picture, like we were all in this together,” she said. “They helped me do this illegal thing and then they’re calling to make sure I’m OK? Wow!

“For me, it helped battle the feeling that I was a bad person, that ‘What’s wrong with me? Why did I get pregnant? I should know better’ voice in my head,” said Smith. “It was priceless.”

Like many young women in the 60s, Heather Booth often protested for civil and women's rights.

Many of the women who joined Jane had never experienced an abortion. Some viewed the work as political, a part of the burgeoning feminist movement. Others considered the service as simply humanitarian health care. All saw the work as an opportunity to respect each woman’s choice.

“I was a stay-at-home mom with four kids,” said Martha Scott, who is now in her 80s. “We knew the woman needed to feel as though she was in control of what was happening to her. We were making it happen for her, but it was not about us. It was about her.”

Some volunteers, like Dorie Barron, experienced the Jane difference firsthand when she found herself pregnant a few years after her abortion at the hands of the Mafia.

“It was a 100% total reversal — I had never experienced such kindness,” Barron said. Not only did a Jane hold each woman’s hand and explain every step of the process, “they gave each of us a giant supply of maternity sanitary pads, and a nice big handful of antibiotics,” she said. “And for the next week, I got a phone call every other day to see how I was.”

Barron soon began volunteering for Jane by providing pregnancy testing for women in the back of a church in Chicago’s Hyde Park.

“It wasn’t just abortion,” Barron explained. “We also said, ‘You could consider adoption,’ and gave adoption referrals. And if the woman wanted to continue with her pregnancy, we said, ‘Fine, please by all that is holy make sure you get prenatal care, take your vitamins, and eat as best you can.’ It was women helping women with whatever they needed.”

Most of the women who contacted Jane were unable to support themselves, in unhealthy relationships, or already had children at home, so the service was a way of “helping them get back on track,” said Smith, who, like Barron, had begun working for Jane after her abortion.

“We were telling them ‘This isn’t the end of the world. You can continue to leave your boyfriend or your husband or continue to just take care of those kids you have.’ We were there to help them get through this,” said Smith, who later became a homecare nurse.

From left: Eileen Smith, Diane Stevens and Benita Greenfield were three of the dozens of women who volunteered for Jane.

Diane Stevens says she came to work for Jane after experiencing an abortion in 1968 at the age of 19. She was living in California at the time, which provided “therapeutic abortions” if approved in advance by physicians.

“I’d had a birth control failure, and I was coached by Planned Parenthood on how to do this,” said Stevens, now 74. “I had to see two psychiatrists and one doctor and tell them I was not able to go through with the pregnancy because it would a danger to both my physical and mental health.

“I was admitted to the psychiatric ward, although I didn’t really know that — I thought I was just in a hospital bed. But oh no, ‘I was mentally ill,’ so that’s where they put me,” said Stevens, who later went to nursing school with Smith. “Then they wheeled me off for the abortion. I had general anesthesia, was there for two days, and then I was discharged. Isn’t that crazy?”

Sakinah Ahad Shannon, now 75, was one of the few Black women who volunteered as a counselor at Jane. She joined after accompanying a friend who was charged a mere $50 for her abortion. At that time, Jane’s fee was between $1 and $100, based on what the woman could afford to pay, Shannon said.

“When I walked in, I said, ‘Oh my God, here we go again. It’s a room of White women, archangels who are going to save the world,’” said Shannon, a social worker and member of the Congress of Racial Equality, an interracial group of non-violent activists who pioneered “Freedom Rides” and helped organize the March on Washington in 1963.

What she heard and saw at her friend’s counseling session was so impressive it “changed my life,” Shannon said. She and her family later opened and operated three Chicago abortion clinics for over 25 years, all using the Jane philosophy of communication and respect.

“It was a profoundly amazing experience for me,” she said. “I call the Janes my sisters. The color line didn’t matter. We were all taking the same risk.”

Sakinah Ahad Shannon and her daughters went on to open and run three abortion clinics in Chicago.

It wasn’t long before the women discovered a “doctor” performing abortions for Jane had been lying about his credentials. There was no medical degree — in the HBO documentary, he admitted he had honed his skills by assisting an abortion provider.

The group imploded. A number of members quit in horror and dismay. For the women who stayed, it was an epiphany, said Martha Scott. Like her, several of the Janes had been assisting this fake doctor for years, learning the procedures step by step.

“You’d learn how to insert a speculum, then how to swap out the vagina with an antiseptic, then how to give numbing shots around the cervix and then how to dilate the cervix. You learned and mastered each step before you moved on to the next,” said Laura Kaplan, who chronicled the procedure in her book.

By now, several of the Janes were quite experienced and willing to do the work. Why not perform the abortions themselves?

“Clearly, this was an intense responsibility,” said Judith Acana, a 27-year-old high school teacher who joined Jane in 1970. She started her training by helping “long terms,” women who were four or five months along in the pregnancy.

“Remember, abortion was illegal (in Illinois) so it could take weeks for a woman to find help,” said Arcana, now 80. “Frequently women who wanted an abortion at 8 or 10 weeks wound up being 16 or 18 weeks or more by the time they found Jane.”

The miscarriage could happen quickly, but it rarely did, she said. It usually took anywhere from one to two days.

“Women who had no one to help them would come back when contractions started,” Arcana said. “One of my strongest memories is of a teenage girl who had an appointment to have her miscarriage on my living room floor.”

The group also paid two Janes to live in an apartment and be on call 24/7 to assist women who had no one to help them miscarry at home, said Arcana, a lifelong educator, author and poet. “But many women took care of it on their own, in very amazing and impressive and powerful ways,” she said.

Judith Arcana learned how to do abortions herself and wrote about the Jane experience in poems, stories, essays and books.

Any woman who had concerns or questions while miscarrying alone could always call Jane for advice any time of the day or night.

“People would call in a panic: ‘The bleeding won’t stop,’” Smith recalled. “I would tell them, ‘Get some ice, put it on your stomach, elevate your legs, relax.’ And they would say ‘Oh my gosh, thank you!’ because they were so scared.”

For women who were in their first trimester, Jane offered traditional D&C abortions — the same dilation and curettage used by hospitals then and today, said Scott, who performed many of the abortions for Jane. Later the group used vacuum aspiration, which was over in a mere five to 10 minutes.

“Vacuum aspiration was much easier to do, and I think it’s less difficult for the woman,” Scott said. “Abortion is exactly like any other medical procedure. It’s the decision that’s an issue — the doing is very straightforward. This was something a competent, trained person could do.”

It was May 3, 1972. Judith Arcana was the driver that day, responsible for relocating women waiting at what was called “the front” to a separate apartment or house where the abortions were done, known as “the place.”

On this day, a Wednesday, the “place” was a South Shore high-rise apartment. Arcana was escorting a woman who had completed her abortion when they were stopped by police at the elevator.

“They asked us, ‘Which apartment did you come out of?’ And the poor woman burst into tears and blurted out the apartment number,” Arcana said. “They took me downstairs, put cuffs on me and hooked me to a steel hook inside of the police van.”

Inside the apartment on the 11th floor, Martha Scott said she was setting up the bedroom for the next abortion when she heard a knock at the door, followed by screaming: “You can’t come in!”

“I shut the bedroom door and locked it,” Scott said, then hid the instruments and sat on the bed to wait. It wasn’t long until a cop kicked the door in and made her join the other women in the living room.

“We tell this joke about how the cops came in, saw all these women and said, ‘Where’s the abortionist?’ You know, assuming that it would be a man,” Scott said.

By day’s end, seven members of Jane were behind bars: Martha Scott, Diane Stevens, Judy Arcana, Jeanne Galatzer-Levy, Abby Pariser, Sheila Smith and Madeleine Schwenk. Suddenly what had been an underground effort for years was front page headlines.

“Had we not gotten arrested, I think no one would ever have known about Jane other than the women we served,” Scott said.

Top: Sheila Smith and Martha Scott.
Bottom: Diane Stevens and Judith Arcana.

An emergency meeting of Jane was called. The turnout was massive — even women who had not been active in months showed up, anxious to know the extent of the police probe, according to the women with whom CNN spoke.

Despite widespread fear and worry, the group immediately began making alternate plans for women scheduled for abortions at Jane in the next few days to weeks. The group even paid for transportation to other cities where abortion had already been legalized, they said.

News reports over the next few days gave further details of the bust: There was no widespread investigation by the police. It was a single incident, triggered by a call from a sister-in-law who was upset with her relative’s decision to have an abortion, they said.

“It wasn’t long after I was arrested that I came back and worked for quite a few months,” said Scott, one of the few fully trained to do abortions.

“I like to think I was a good soldier,” Scott said. “I like to think what did made a difference not only to a whole bunch of people, but also to ourselves. It gave us a sense of empowerment that comes when you do something that is hard to do and also right.”

As paranoia eased, women began to come back to work at Jane, determined to carry on.

“After the bust, we had a meeting and were told ‘Everybody needs to start assisting and learn how to do abortions.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’” said Eileen Smith, who had not been arrested. “But you felt like you really didn’t have much of a choice. We had to keep the service running.”

Laura Kaplan volunteered for the Janes, later immortalizing the group in her book,

The preliminary hearing for the arrested seven was in August. Several of the women in the apartment waiting for abortions the day of the arrest suddenly developed amnesia and refused to testify. According to Kaplan’s book, one of the women later said, “The cops tried to push me around, but f**k them. I wasn’t going to tell on you.”

It didn’t matter. Each Jane was charged with 11 counts of abortion and conspiracy to commit abortion, with a possible sentence of up to 110 years in prison.

As they waited for trial, the lawyer for the seven, Jo-Anne Wolfson, adopted delaying tactics, Kaplan said. A case representing a Texas woman, cited as “Jane Roe” to protect her privacy, was being considered by the US Supreme Court. If the Court ruled in Roe’s favor, the case against the Jane’s might be thrown out.

That’s exactly what happened. On March 9, 1973, three months after the Supreme Court had legalized abortion in the US, the case against the seven women was dropped and their arrest records were expunged.

Later that spring, a majority of Janes, burned out by the intensity of the work over the last few years, voted to close shop. An end of Jane party was held on May 20. According to Kaplan’s book, the invitation read:

“You are cordially invited to attend The First, Last and Only Curette Caper; the Grand Finale of the Abortion Counseling Service. RSVP: Call Jane.”

Today, most of the surviving members of Jane are in their 70s and 80s, shocked but somehow not surprised by the actions of abortion opponents.

“This is a country of ill-educated politicos who know nothing about women’s bodies, nor do they care,” said Dorie Barron. “It will take generations to even begin to undo the devastating harm to women’s rights.”

In the meantime, women should research all available options, keep that information confidential, seek support from groups working for abortion rights, and “share your education with as many women as you can,” Barron added.

As more and more reproductive freedoms have been rolled back over the past year, many of the Janes are angry and fearful for the future.

Abortion rights demonstrators walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York nearly two weeks after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This is about the most intimate decision of our lives — when, whether and with whom we have a child. Everyone should have the ability to make decisions about our own lives, bodies, and futures without political interference,” said Heather Booth, who has spent her life after leaving Jane fighting for civil and women’s rights.

“We need to organize, raise our voices and our votes, and overturn this attack on our freedom and our lives. I have seen that when we take action and organize we can change the world.”

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On ‘weed day,’ our medical analyst urges caution on recreational marijuana use | CNN



CNN
— 

As some people mark 4/20 as “weed day,” a day of celebration of marijuana use, I don’t want to bum you out — but I might.

Over the past decade, there has been a trend toward legalizing marijuana in the United States. Currently, at least 37 states, plus Washington, DC, have a comprehensive medical cannabis program. A growing number of states, currently at 21, have legalized recreational marijuana use.

I wanted to learn about the research around marijuana use, including the effects it has on the user and the medicinal uses for cannabis. I turned to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, who has many concerns about recreational cannabis use, especially for certain populations such as young people and pregnant people.

Wen, who urged users and would-be users to be cautious, is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner and as chair of Behavioral Health System Baltimore, where she oversaw policy and services around substances that can cause addiction, including marijuana.

CNN: What are the physiological effects of marijuana?

Dr. Leana Wen: Marijuana is a plant that has many active ingredients. One of the principal ones is a psychoactive compound called tetrahydrocannabinol. Often called THC, it’s similar to compounds that are naturally occurring in the body called cannabinoids and can mimic their function by attaching to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. In so doing, THC can disrupt normal mental and physical functions, including memory, concentration, movement and coordination.

Using marijuana can cause impaired thinking and interfere with someone’s ability to learn, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Smoking cannabis can also impair the function of the parts of the brain that regulate balance, posture and reaction time. And THC stimulates the neurons involved in the reward system that release dopamine, or the “feel-good” brain chemical, which contributes to its addictive potential.

CNN: Marijuana is thought to have some positive and medicinal benefits. How can it be used for therapeutic purposes?

Wen: Short-term, many users report pleasant feelings, including happiness and relaxation. As a result, some people use marijuana to self-treat anxiety or depression. This is not a recommended use. What often ends up happening is that the person develops tolerance, requiring more and more of the drug to get the same effect.

There are some approved medicinal uses of marijuana for very specific indications. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved THC-based medications that are prescribed in pill form for treatment of nausea in patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy and to stimulate appetite in patients with AIDS. There are several marijuana-based medications that are undergoing clinical trials for conditions like neuropathic pain, overactive bladder and muscle stiffness.

I think it’s really important for these and many more studies to continue. Researchers should continue to look not just at marijuana itself but its specific chemical components, since botanicals in their natural form can contain hundreds of active chemicals and obtaining the correct dosages may be challenging. In the meantime, users should use caution in evaluating supposed medicinal claims and clearly understand the risks of cannabis use.

CNN: What are the risks of marijuana use, and who may be particularly vulnerable to them?

Wen: The main concern about marijuana use is its impact on the developing brain. As the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website, “Marijuana affects brain development. Developing brains, such as those in babies, children, and teenagers, are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol.”

Numerous studies have linked marijuana use in women during pregnancy to a variety of cognitive and behavioral problems in their children. The CDC even warns against secondhand marijuana smoke exposure, and it also encourages breastfeeding individuals to avoid marijuana use.

Marijuana affects young people throughout adolescence and young adulthood. Much research has shown how marijuana use in childhood impacts memory, attention, learning and motivation. Regular cannabis use in adolescence is associated with higher likelihood of not completing high school and even lower IQ later in life. The negative impacts persist beyond the teen years. Some studies of university students have found that the regularity of marijuana use is correlated with lower grade point average in college.

I want to emphasize here that there is still a lot that we don’t know about the effects of marijuana, in particular long-term consequences. A recent study found that in adults, daily use of regular marijuana can increase the risk of coronary artery disease by as much as one-third. That’s the point, though; all the unknowns are exactly why I and many other clinicians and scientists urge caution.

To be clear, there are many reasons to support policy changes of decriminalizing marijuana, including to rectify the decades-long injustices of disproportionately incarcerating minority individuals for marijuana possession. However, supporting decriminalization should not be equated with believing that marijuana is totally safe. It’s not. Marijuana has the potential to cause real and lasting harm, especially to young people.

CNN: Could someone become addicted to marijuana?

Wen: Yes. There is a condition known as marijuana use disorder. Signs of this disorder include trying but failing to quit using marijuana;, continuing to use it even though it is causing problems at home, school or work;, and using marijuana in high-risk situations, including while driving. Some individuals, especially those who use large amounts, experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop.

As many as 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder, according to the CDC. The risk of developing marijuana use disorder is greater among those who use it more frequently and for those who started earlier in life.

CNN: Some people say that marijuana is no big deal, especially in comparison with other substances like alcohol and opioids. Would you agree that cannabis use is at least better than using those substances?

Wen: I wouldn’t frame it that way. It is true that marijuana doesn’t cause liver damage the way that high amounts of alcohol does, and it doesn’t have the lethality of opioids. If an adult is using marijuana once in a while, and not while driving, it’s probably not going to have lasting consequences.

However, there are harms associated with more frequent use of marijuana and in particular its use in children. In my opinion, the legalization movement has shifted the conversation so much towards acceptance of cannabis that we are neglecting the fact that it is a drug and, I believe, should be regulated just like alcohol, tobacco and opioids.

There should also be much more messaging and education so that people, including young people and their parents or guardians, can be aware of the harms of marijuana — just as they are aware of the harms of other drugs.

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Children’s mental health tops list of parent worries, survey finds | CNN



CNN
— 

Forty percent of US parents are “extremely” or “very” worried that their children will struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, a new survey finds.

The Pew Research Center report said mental health was the greatest concern among parents, followed by bullying, which worries 35% of parents. These concerns trumped fears of kidnapping, dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy and getting into trouble with the police.

Concerns varied by race, ethnicity and income level, with roughly 4 in 10 Latino and low-income parents and 3 in 10 Black parents saying they are extremely or very worried that their children could be shot, compared with about 1 in 10 high-income or White parents.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said that being a parent has been at least somewhat harder than they expected, about 41% say that being a parent is tiring, and 29% say it is stressful all or most of the time.

The report captured the perceptions of a nationally representative sample of 3,757 US parents whose children were younger than 18 in 2022.

Experts say mental health issues among children and adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years.

“I would say over the last 10 years, since I’ve been practicing as a general pediatrician, I have seen a shift both in the amount of patients and of all ages dealing with anxiety and depression. And their parents being concerned about this is a key issue,” said Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Even before the pandemic, we were seeing skyrocketing numbers of kids and adolescents dealing with mental health issues, and that has increased exponentially since the pandemic.”

Suicide became the second leading cause of death among children 10 to 14 during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental health-related emergency room visits among adolescents 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 also jumped 24% and 31%, respectively.

Many parents feel helpless when their children have mental health issues because they don’t feel equipped to offer support in this area.

“They are unable to relieve [mental health issues] and address that as they could if they were struggling with their grades or other things that seem more traditional to for kids to struggle with,” said Allen Sabey, a family therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Parents trying to “work out and look at and connect with their own feelings will give them important information about what feels off or OK for their kid,” he said.

When it comes to anxiety and depression in children, pediatricians say, parents can watch for signs like decreased interest or pleasure in things they previously enjoyed, poor self-esteem and changes in mood, appetite or sleep.

Experts also say parents should consider the amount and content of social media their child consumes, as research has found that it can have negative effects on their mental health.

But, they say, having more parents recognize the importance of mental health in children is a step in the right direction.

“I have always felt there’s been so much resistance to seeking care for mental health among the population that I serve. And I am actually happy that since the Covid pandemic, at least people now are recognizing this as a very key and important health need,” said Dr. Maggi Smeal, a pediatrician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

Smeal hopes that “all people that are interacting with children can be aware of these issues and feel empowered to identify and advocate for these children, to tell them to go to their primary care provider and have an assessment just like you do if your kid has a cough or a fever or ear infection.”

The number of parents concerned about gun violence reflects the fact that guns are the leading cause of death among children in the US, research has showed. From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related deaths increased 29.5% – more than twice the increase as in the general population.

“Gun violence is a real risk to our kids today. And that is both being killed by somebody else as well as suicide in the face of the mental health issues that we’re seeing today,” Williamson said.

The survey found that Black, Hispanic and lower-income parents were most likely to be concerned about gun violence, a finding that’s consistent with the communities most affected. Research has shown that from 2018 to 2021, the rate of firearm-related deaths doubled among Black youth and increased 50% among Hispanic youth. Another study found that children living in low-income areas are at higher risk of firearm-related death.

Direct and indirect exposure to gun violence can contribute to mental health problems.

“Even if they hear gunshots in their community, they hear adults talking, there’s all different ways that children are traumatized and victimized by gun violence. And what we see is all the symptoms of anxiety in even the youngest of children. We see children with somatic complaints – stomachaches, headaches. They have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Smeal said.

Most of the parents in the survey said parenting is harder than they expected, and that they feel judgment from various sources.

“The findings of this of this report were, as a pediatrician and a parent, just exactly what you would expect. Parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and there are very high levels of stress and fatigue, especially in the parents of young children,” Smeal said.

One of the best things parents can do is lean on fellow parents, experts say.

“The main challenge for parents is our siloed independent nature sometimes, and so we want to find people who we trust and kind of work towards being more vulnerable and open with,” Sabey said. “To where it’s like not just you and your kid, but it’s a kind of a group of people caring and working together.”

Pediatricians emphasize that no parent is perfect and that the most important thing you can do is to just be there for your child.

“We know that the best chance for a child to be successful and happy is for them to have at least one person in their life who believes in them and advocates for them. So I think it’s important for parents to know that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, because we are all human, and humans are imperfect by nature, but that is OK,” Williamson said.

A parent’s job is to “really make sure that they know how important they are and they have a voice in this world,” she said. “Every child will have their own unique struggles, whether it is academically, emotionally, physically. Our job is to help them with the areas [where] they struggle, but even more, help them recognize their strengths.”

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How to be prepared in case of a shooting without living in fear | CNN



CNN
— 

At first, Brandon Tsay froze when a gunman aimed a firearm at him, he said. He was sure those would be his last moments.

But then something came over Tsay, who was working the ticket counter in the lobby of his family’s Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, a dance hall in Alhambra, California.

He lunged toward the armed man and struggled through being hit several times in order to wrestle the gun away, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday evening.

The gunman had already killed 11 people and injured 10 others before arriving at Tsay’s workplace.

Tsay’s courage saved his life that day, but probably also saved countless more, said Ronald Tunkel, a former special agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who was trained as a criminal profiler.

While Tsay’s actions show heroism and bravery, what he did is more possible than people think, said Dr. Ragy Girgis, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City.

“People have a great capacity for responding to tragedies like these. People wouldn’t realize how heroically they could respond,” he said.

Fortunately, most people will not find themselves in a situation in which they will have to respond to a mass shooter, Girgis said. But incidents like these are all too common and on the rise in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

There is not much research on intervention in mass shootings by civilians, Girgis said.

Still, as the US sees mass shootings on a regular basis, companies, nonprofits and schools are training people about how to respond. Tunkel and Jon Pascal, an instructor for both Krav Maga Worldwide and the Force Training Institute, say they are seeing more training and protocols around active shooting situations for everyday people.

A word of warning: If your awareness around safety starts to contribute to anxiety or interfere with life in a meaningful way, it may be time to consult a mental health expert, said psychiatrist Dr. Keith Stowell, chief medical officer of behavioral health and addictions for Rutgers Health and RWJBarnabas Health.

Tunkel said being able to respond effectively to emergency situations takes two things: awareness and preparation.

Create “a habit of safety,” Pascal recommended. That means that people should routinely make note of the mood of crowds they are in, the exits and entrances, and what tools are available around them in case they need to respond to a scary event.

“We don’t want to walk around paranoid and not live our lives, but I think if we make personal safety a habit, it becomes something normal,” he said.

Your worst-case scenario is probably never going to happen, but being prepared means you have ways to take care of yourself and those around you if it does, Pascal added.

In addition to implementing awareness of your surroundings, Pascal recommends making a plan for how you will respond in case of medical, fire or violent emergencies.

It is always important to look for two ways of exiting a building in case danger or an obstacle is blocking one, he said. And at home or in workplaces, he recommended taking note of doors that can be locked and things that can be used to barricade.

Once you have the plan, practice it, he added. That bookcase might look like the perfect barricade in your head, but then be impossible to move in an emergency, Pascal said. And you want to be sure your escape routes don’t have locked doors you can’t open.

But preparation can also take the form of training — and it doesn’t have to be long-term, intensive and specific to the situation, Tunkel said.

Self-defense or active shooter training can help give you knowledge and strategies to use quickly if ever they are needed, Pascal said. But even more general training can help give you the mental and physical responses needed in case of emergency, Tunkel said.

Weight lifting and team sports can show you that you are physically capable of responding, he said. Yoga and meditation can train your breath and brain to stay calm and make good decisions in crisis, he said.

And in a dangerous situation, acting quickly and decisively is often safest, Pascal said.

It’s hard to be decisive when bullets are flying. Many victims of mass shootings have reported that the events were confusing and that it was hard to tell what was happening, Girgis said.

And if people don’t know what is happening, they often rely on their instincts to make decisions on what to do next, which can be scary, Pascal said.

The human brain likes categories to make things simpler, so it will often default to relating new things to those we have been exposed to before, Stowell said. When a person hears a popping noise, they might be likely to assume the sound is something familiar like a firecracker, he added.

Instead, Pascal advised people — whether they think they hear balloons popping or gunshots — to stop, look around to gather as much information as they can about what is going on around them, listen to see if they can learn anything from the sound, and smell the air.

Because where there are gunshots, there is often gunpowder, Pascal said.

Once someone has gathered what information they can, it is important to trust your perception of danger, Tunkel said.

Knowing there is danger activates a fight-or-flight response, which humans have honed over thousands of years to respond to predators, Stowell said.

But when a person is in a dangerous situation that is so far from anything they’ve experienced before, it is not uncommon for them to freeze, he added.

That is where training of any kind comes in. Even if it doesn’t teach you every detail of how to respond, it gives your brain a set of knowledge to fall back on in a terrifying situation, Stowell said.

Wrestling a gun away isn’t the only way to act when there is a mass shooter, Pascal said.

The US Department of Homeland Security developed a protocol called “Run, hide, fight.”

“Run” refers to the first line of defense — to get yourself away from a dangerous situation as quickly as possible, Pascal said. You can encourage others to run away too, but don’t stay back if they won’t leave with you.

If it isn’t possible to run, the next best option is to hide, making it more difficult in some way for the perpetrator to get to you, he said.

If none of those are an option, you can fight.

“You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest person in the room,” Pascal said. “You just have to have that mindset that no one is going to do this to me and I’m going home safe.”

Even though most people are capable of responding to danger in some way, it is important not to judge how much or how little a bystander or victim acts, Tunkel said.

“What may be reasonable for one person in one situation is not for someone else in another situation,” Pascal said.

No matter how well a person has been trained, mass shootings are “beyond the scope of anything we’ve had to experience in our everyday lives,” Stowell said. “There’s no real expectation of a right response, despite training.”

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Pediatricians are giving out free gun locks to approach the gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis | CNN



CNN
— 

In a triage waiting room of St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, a clear basket filled with gun locks sits near the walkway, just noticeable enough to those passing by.

The hospital staff calls it the “No Questions Asked” basket, to encourage gun safety without having to confront gun owners about what can be a sensitive and divisive topic. It holds an assortment of cable gun locks free of charge, available to those who need them, alongside pamphlets explaining how to properly and safely store firearms.

The initiative, aimed at reducing the stigma of addressing gun safety, is part of a growing effort by medical professionals who are treating the country’s gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis.

“It takes standing at the bedside of one child who has been shot to realize that we all have to do more and as the leading cause of death for children in this country, pediatricians need to be front and center of the solution, of all the solutions,” said Dr. Annie Andrews, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina and an expert on gun violence prevention.

Over the course of two years, thousands of gun locks have been taken from the basket, according to Dr. Lindsay Clukies, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the hospital.

In the coming weeks, baskets filled with free gun locks will be available at more than 17 locations operated by BJC HealthCare, an organization serving metro St. Louis, mid-Missouri and Southern Illinois, Clukies said. It’s a low-cost and effective way to easily distribute firearm safety devices.

“We’ve had employees as well as patients take our locks, also their families and even a grandmother who took one for her grandson. It’s for anyone who needs them,” Clukies told CNN. In recent years, a rising number of pediatricians across the country have been engaging with the topic of gun safety in medical settings by focusing on safety and prevention, already a natural aspect of their work.

During patient visits, it’s increasingly common for pediatricians to ask the patient’s parents if there are guns at home, and if so, how they are stored. Some hospitals then offer free gun locks, often sourced from donations or police departments and paired with safe storage education.

Some pediatricians, who bear witness to the effects of gun violence on children in their workplace every day, told CNN they see it as their obligation as medical professionals to be part of the solution to the epidemic.

In 2022, 1,672 children and teenagers under 17 were killed by gun violence and 4,476 were injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization tracking injuries and deaths by gunfire since 2014.

“We have just as an important voice in this conversation as anyone else because we’re the ones who have invested our entire careers to protecting children and ensuring that children can grow up to be the safest healthiest version of themselves,” said Andrews.

“It is only natural that we see these things that we understand that they’re preventable, and we want to get involved in finding the solutions,” she added.

So far in 2023, high-profile incidents of children accessing firearms have heeded calls for stronger, more consistent laws nationwide, requiring adults to safely secure their guns out of the reach of children and others unauthorized to use them. They have also highlighted a lack of public education on the responsibility of gun owners to store their guns unloaded, locked and away from ammunition, CNN previously reported.

In early January, a 6-year-old boy was taken into police custody after he took a gun purchased by his mother from his home, brought it to school and shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, police said. Just over a week later, a man was arrested in Beech Grove, Indiana, after video was shown on live TV of a toddler, reportedly the man’s son, waving and pulling the trigger of a handgun, CNN previously reported.

Hundreds of children in the US every year gain access to firearms and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, according to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, a leading non-profit organization focusing on gun violence prevention. In 2022, there were 301 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 133 deaths and 180 injuries nationally, Everytown data showed.

Firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among people younger than 24 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated policy statement in October 2022, stating firearms are now the leading cause of death in children under the age of 24 in the US.

The Academy’s statement urged a “multipronged approach with layers of protection focused on harm reduction, which has been successful in decreasing motor vehicle-related injuries, is essential to decrease firearm injuries and deaths in children and youth.”

The Academy has free educational modules for pediatricians to guide them on how to have what can be challenging or uncomfortable conversations about firearms with families, according to Dr. Lois Kaye Lee, a pediatrician and the chair of the Academy’s Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.

“This shouldn’t be considered as something extra; it should be considered as part of the work that we do every day around injury prevention, be it around firearms, child passenger safety and suicide prevention,” Lee said.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told CNN the public health approach to addressing gun violence removes the politics from the issue and “puts it into a scientific evidence-based framework.”

“Physicians have a unique opportunity to engage their patients, the parents of kids or the parents themselves as individuals to make their homes safer,” Benjamin said. “We already do this for toxins under our kitchen cabinets, razor blades and outlets in the wall.”

In the emergency department at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, all patients are screened for access to firearms and offered free gun locks, as well as safe storage education, Clukies said. Gun locks can also be mailed to families, free of cost, through the hospital’s website.

“Every patient that comes into our emergency department, whether it’s for a fever or a cold or a broken arm, is asked about access to firearms,” said Clukies, adding 5,000 locks have been given out since the initiatives were started in 2021.

In a collaborative effort between trauma nurses, physicians, social workers, violence intervention experts and family partners, the hospital created a “nonjudgmental” script for doctors to follow as they ask patients about access to firearms, Clukies said.

During the screening process, pediatricians will ask parents or caretakers questions such as: Do you have access to a firearm where your child lives or plays? How is it stored? Is it stored unloaded or loaded?

“When I first started doing this, I would say, ‘Are there any guns in the home? Yes, or no?’ But I have found and learned from other experts that if you just say, ‘If there are any guns in the home, do you mind telling me how they’re secured?’ it takes away the judgment,” said Andrews, a pediatrician whose hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina, also offers free gun locks to patients.

An assortment of cable gun locks offered free of charge by the Medical University of South Carolina.

Families are asked about firearms in the “social history” phase of a patient visit, during which pediatricians will ask who lives in the home, what grade the child is in, what activities they engage in and where the child goes to school, according to Andrews. When parents indicate their firearms are not safely stored, like on the top of a shelf or in a nightstand drawer, Andrews said those are important opportunities for intervention and education about storage devices such as keypad lockboxes, fingerprint biometric safes and other types of lock systems.

It’s also important for pediatricians to understand the parents’ or caretakers’ motivation for owning a firearm to “inform the conversation about where they’re willing to meet you as far as storage goes,” she added.

Andrews and Clukies said they were pleasantly surprised by the willingness of families to discuss firearm safety, most of whom recognize it is an effort to protect their children.

“I expected more pushback than we received, which is attributed to us really focusing on how we properly word these questions,” Clukies said. “I think it’s because we turn it into a neutral conversation, and we focus on safety and prevention.”

Andrews added it is uncommon for medical schools or residencies to discuss gun violence prevention, which she says is due to the “politics around the issue.”

“Thankfully, that has evolved, and more and more pediatricians are realizing that we have to be an integral part of the solution to this problem,” Andrews said.

At the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, pediatricians followed up with patients who received a free gun lock in a research study roughly two months after they launched the initiative in the fall of 2021 to see if their storage practices changed.

The study found two-thirds of families reported using the gun lock provided to them by the hospital and there was a “statistically significant decrease” in those who didn’t store their firearms safely, as well as an increase in those who stored their firearms unloaded, according to Clukies.

But there is still much more work to be done in the medical community to fight the gun violence epidemic and scientific research on the issue is “woefully underfunded,” Andrews contended.

According to the American Public Health Association’s Benjamin, a multidisciplinary approach by policymakers, law enforcement and the medical community is essential to fostering a safer environment for children.

“Injury prevention is a core part of every physician’s job,” Benjamin said. “It’s clearly in our lane.”

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