ANSIRH was founded in 2002 by Felicia Stewart, MD, and Tracy Weitz, PhD, MPA. Since then it has grown to include more than 30 faculty, researchers, and staff members, and has become a leading and ground-breaking source of research on abortion and reproductive health.
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).
Tracy Weitz, PhD, MPA, is a lifetime advocate of women’s health and reproductive rights. Trained as a qualitative sociologist, she designs and undertakes mixed methods research that focuses on innovative strategies to expand abortion provision in the United States. Her research portfolio includes a demonstration project of the use of nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and physician assistants as providers of early aspiration abortion care in California; a study of women’s emotions related to abortion; and a national strategic initiative to expand access to later abortion. She is also deeply interested in understanding abortion as a cultural and political phenomenon in the post-legalization United States.
The two joined forces shortly after Felicia’s relocation to UCSF and while Tracy was serving as the Executive Director for the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health (CoE) and considering her next steps. Felicia had been working to build expertise within the Bixby Center regarding abortion policy. It had become 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.
ANSIRH’s early history
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 illness. We lost her to cancer 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 Bixby Center, was willing to assume that role. With Tracy Weitz as Director, Diana agreed to serve as ANSIRH’s Research Director, and together they 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 relocated to downtown Oakland, sharing 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.
A new era begins
At the end of 2013, after a year that brought new recognition in major publications to ANSIRH, its work and its researchers—and in which the results of ANSIRH’s six-year Health Workforce Pilot Project contributed to California becoming the first state in recent years to expand rather than restrict access to abortion—Tracy stepped down as ANSIRH’s Director to transition to a new role at a large Foundation in Omaha, Nebraska. Diana Greene Foster, ANSIRH’s Research Director, took over as Interim Director.
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 now 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.