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Even before PPMM Associate Medical Director Dr. J. Hamilton began her medical training, she felt she was destined to work at Planned Parenthood – and that she wanted to be an abortion provider. She said the first seeds may have been planted when she was in elementary school and saw the iconic film “Dirty Dancing,” set in the 1960s, where one of the main characters almost dies after having a botched, illegal abortion.

“It made such an impression, and I couldn’t imagine not having that right,” Dr. Hamilton said. “The idea that health care is a human right is something that became so important to me. Being part of the ‘safety net’ that provides care for everyone, including the most vulnerable, is the place I wanted to be. By the time I did my OB rotation in medical school, I did whatever I could to squeeze in shifts working at Planned Parenthood.”

She still remembers patients she saw then who might otherwise not have been able to receive the abortion care they needed and would have had their lives derailed, whether it meant not being able to finish their education or not being able to afford food and shelter for children they already had.

Fast forward to 2022 at PPMM, where Dr. Hamilton is now associate medical director of abortion services and a PP veteran after working for our sister affiliate, Planned Parenthood of Northern California. “The way we offer care is what I deeply believe in,” she said. “That means supportive, patient-centered, clear and accurate information and shared decision-making, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Patients know what makes sense for them in their lives.”

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Dr. Hamilton began to see, first-hand, the devastating consequences of severe abortion restrictions in other states when patients began to travel to California and Nevada, where abortion rights remain strongly protected.

In the fall of 2021, soon after Texas passed the nation’s most draconian abortion ban, one of Dr. Hamilton’s patients came from Dallas to our Oakland health center after she found her pregnancy was only a few days past the six-week gestational age limit – and it wasn’t easy for her to afford the flight. She told Dr. Hamilton she was outraged and stunned that she wasn’t allowed to have an abortion in the state where she lives.

Dr. Hamilton shares that outrage, recalling her reaction on June 24 when the Supreme Court took away the right to abortion. “I had just come in from my morning run and received a text from a friend that read, ‘It happened.’ Nothing could have prepared me for the weight of that moment.”

Her 6-year-old son noticed that she was upset, and she explained to him what the court’s decision meant – its assault on human rights and the work she does at Planned Parenthood. He thought about this somberly as he got into the car to be dropped off at camp, before his mom went to work at PPMM’s Reno health center. Then he exclaimed, sharing her defiance, “I know, let’s blast ‘Girl on Fire!’ Over and over again!”

Dr. Hamilton said that a little Alicia Keys was just the medicine she needed at that moment: “Having the privilege to see patients that day was something I’ll never take for granted.”

In recent months, Dr. Hamilton has played a significant role in improving access for abortion patients in California and in Nevada, and she and her family live only 30 miles from the Nevada border. She serves on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Future of Abortion Council, which advises on abortion-care policy, and she testified in favor of Sacramento’s ordinance that enhances protections for patients outside of health centers from aggressive anti-abortion protestors. She is also looking forward to providing increased access to abortion care at PPMM’s large new health center in Reno, scheduled to open next spring.

Though PPMM expects to see more abortion patients coming to our health centers from other states, there are plenty of patients in California and Nevada that also need more access to abortion care even though abortion rights are protected here.

“We’ve been working to increase access for our patients long before now,” Dr. Hamilton said. “We have been training more clinicians to provide abortions and making it easier to get an appointment on more days and times at our health centers.

“A lot of people don’t realize how difficult it can be to get an appointment nearby if you live in a rural area where there are few providers or if you have to drive more than a 100 miles to get to a health center, even in your own state. Already, we’re seeing more urgency among people who live in California and Nevada to get abortion appointments.”

In the post-Roe era, Dr. Hamilton sees an opportunity to double-down on her commitment to providing abortion care for anyone who needs it. “This is a time to revel in what we do,” she said. “It’s a privilege to do this work, and this is where I want to be.”

Tags: compassionate_care, courage

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