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Felicia Stewart, MD, and I (Tracy Weitz) co-founded ANSIRH in 2002. Having lost Felicia to cancer a few years ago, I am left to write its history as I remember it. Writing an organizational history is a funny project—a little revisionism, a little recall of repressed memories... some laughs and some tears. At times, the telling is overly broad and at others there are too many details. I hope you will indulge both of these whims.
Felicia Stewart, MD, was one of the mothers of the reproductive health movement. She worked as a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist in Sacramento for over three decades. She co-authored one of the field’s most important texts: Contraceptive Technology (now in its 19th edition). From 1994 to 1996, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for managing the National Family Planning Program (Title X) and the Adolescent Family Life Program (Title XX). After leaving Washington, she spent a brief time with the Kaiser Family Foundation and, in 1999, was recruited by UCSF to co-direct the newly formed Center for Reproductive Health Research & Policy (now called the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health).
So that is where I come into the picture. Soon after Felicia’s relocation to UCSF, I found myself in a fortuitous conversation with a colleague who mentioned that I should meet Felicia, with whom she believed I shared many common interests. At that time, I was serving as the Executive Director for the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health (CoE) and considering my next steps in life, as I had several external job offers. When I met with Felicia she provided, as she would so many times over the next five years, words to live by: “If you are brave enough to do what others will not, do that work and leave the easier work to someone else.” I knew it was time to return to my first love, access to abortion care.
From 1999 to 2001, Felicia worked to build expertise within the Bixby Center regarding abortion policy. It was clear that a new program was needed that focused on clinical care and public policy on abortion. The name ANSIRH (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health) developed out of a belief that science, not politics, should determine care and policy, and that we should always be moving the field forward rather than simply holding ground. And so, ANSIRH was born.
From 2002 to 2005, ANSIRH was housed at the beautiful Women’s Health Center building on the UCSF Mount Zion Campus. We were lucky to have the institutional support of Nancy Milliken, MD, CoE Director and Dixie Horning, CoE Executive Director, in whose space we were located. The CoE and the Bixby Center (of which we have always been a program) helped nurture our development. In 2005, we relocated to the San Francisco General Hospital Campus, where we quickly ran out of room. Several projects were dispersed to other locations including the Laurel Heights Campus, the Mount Zion campus, and the 50 Beale Building, which housed the Global Women’s Health Imperative.
In 2005, Felicia retired from UCSF due to her illness. We lost her in 2006. ANSIRH continued, but it was clear it would need renewed leadership if we were to continue Felicia’s legacy. Diana Greene Foster, PhD, a demographer in the Center, was willing to assume that role. With me as Director, Diana agreed to serve as ANSIRH’s Research Director, and together we retooled ANSIRH to focus on advancing science and public policy in reproductive health. We remain committed to ANSIRH’s original mission and to Felicia’s vision for a proactive agenda.
In 2007, we began to look for consolidated space to allow us to bring together our research projects and create a growth plan. Our initial effort was centered on locating space at the SFGH hospital, where our clinical colleagues are located. Such a goal remained elusive. In 2008, we successfully relocated to a beautiful 7000 sq foot office in downtown Oakland, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. We share this space with the new UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), which is dedicated to creating a healthier environment for human reproduction and development by advancing scientific inquiry, clinical care and health policies that prevent exposures to harmful chemicals in our environment. We also rent space to two other organizations with a West Coast presence: Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) and Ibis Reproductive Health. Such a rich intellectual environment is a privilege for us all.
Throughout all of the change and growth, ANSIRH has been about the people who comprise the organization. The paintings you see in the ANSIRH quilt were created as a group project at an ANSIRH holiday party. Each of us painted a picture of something we bring to work. While many of those staff are no longer with us, once you are a part of ANSIRH, you are always a part of ANSIRH. We also have a star named after our beloved Felicia. If you have a telescope, check out her space among the heavens (RA 341.96115 and declination -43.3746111)—she guides us even today.
So that is my version of the history. Others, no doubt, remember other things. History, although in the past, is constantly rewritten. Additional thoughts and memories can be shared with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANSIRH honors the memory of Dr. Felicia Stewart, a fearless leader and advocate for compassionate, evidence-based reproductive health care.
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