Location: Napa, California
Lynette Leighton recently traveled to rural Kentucky and provided seven women with long-acting, effective birth control that they would not otherwise have been able to access. She also provided several other women with a year’s supply of contraceptive pills. The trip was one she hopes to make multiple times each year from her home in California, in partnership with the nonprofit Remote Access Medical that provides vital medical care (like pap smears, dental work and ophthalmology) to rural areas of the country. “This experience was beyond rewarding,” says Lynette, who secured funding from friends and family in a last-minute social media fundraising plea. The trip also reinforced her commitment to women’s health and reproductive rights, especially in an era when they are under assault. “I’m sad and angry that women have to fight to plan families the way they choose,” Lynette says.
Even though she describes herself as someone who “came out of the womb as a feminist,” Lynette did not initially pursue a medical career as a venue for helping and empowering women. She did not go to medical school until she was thirty years old, after working as a physical therapist in Burma and feeling inspired by the women’s health care providers at the camp clinic. While in medical school and during her residency at UCSF, Lynette was active with a group called Medical Students For Choice that advocates for contraception and abortion to be integrated into medical care. She followed up her residency with a Family Planning Fellowship at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital, where she focused on advocating for women’s health, especially around abortion and contraception.
She returned to San Francisco after her fellowship to teach at UCSF’s Family and Community Medicine Residency program, where she was able to combine her feminism with her passion for community health. In 2015 she met a vintner and moved with him to Napa, where she currently lives. Lynette now serves as the Director of Women’s Health at the OLE Health Clinic, that provides healthcare to the area’s migrant farm workers and the community at large. The clinic works in conjunction with a nearby Catholic hospital, so Lynette has focused on educating the staff about the importance of access to birth control and abortions. It is slow going, but Lynette is determined to “work with the providers to help make family planning a priority in primary care,” she says.
As her recent trip to Kentucky illustrates, Lynette is not just directing her efforts to her own community. She is a national trainer for Power to Decide’s One Key Question campaign, that advocates for women’s health care providers to ask female patients if they “would like to become pregnant in the next year,”giving them a chance to discuss birth control and preconception planning. She has also joined forces with RAMUSA (Rural America Medicine) in its initiative to travel through rural America to provide free medicine and she is helping provide long-acting birth control for the first time, like nexplanons and IUDs. “Most rural medical clinics have very limited options in terms of birth control,” Lynette says.
On her trip to rural Kentucky, Lynette says that she was repeatedly told by the women she was helping that “they don’t know where to go for birth control and they feel judged by local clinicians.” To me, this is yet another example of the disparities that exist in our country and how poverty is often the barrier to things that many of us take for granted. I am grateful that Lynette and her colleagues are seeing this need and doing their best to fill it. One woman Lynette helped burst into tears when Lynette offered to insert a free Nexplanon. She came to the clinic with her three children, two of whom were unplanned, and she told Lynette that she is broke and she lives in fear of getting pregnant again. Thanks to Lynette, she now has peace of mind for the next five years. Lynette knows there are many more women out there like the grateful mother of three, who cannot get access to affordable contraception and who are condemned for even asking for it. She is hoping to raise enough money to be able to help even more women on her next trip so that they can have the right to live worry-free lives with families they planned.
To donate to future trips or to learn more about them, visit:
https://www.ramusa.org/donate-now/ Note that donations are to be used for long-acting contraception or to fund Dr>Leighton Volunteering. Or donations can be sent directly to Lynette through Venmo at Lynette-Leighton-1.