This month’s focus on gratitude would be totally incomplete without a conversation with Nancy Pitts from Women Have Options in Ohio. I met Nancy at the 2011 National Network of Abortions Funds summit. Nancy has been an incredible mentor – and she has helped the Abortion Access Network of Arizona get started.
Find out how Nancy got involved with pro-choice activism, and what drives her work today. And be sure to check out the WHOO Facebook page – you’re guaranteed to receive a daily dose of inspiration if you do.
1. How did you first get involved in the pro-choice movement? And what motivates you to stay involved?
My serious commitment to the movement began just a few years back, when I learned of Women Have Options, Ohio’s statewide abortion fund. Something had been missing in my life: passion, purpose, drive. So I started getting connected with the pro-choice movement. As with many things in life, a chain of introductions and meetings and connections turned into something I could not have foreseen at the outset: joining the board of Women Have Options.
When I first met with the board’s founder and chair, I had never heard of an abortion fund. I was profoundly moved by the discussion. When I had my abortion 15 years ago, I was terrified about being pregnant. But I didn’t worry about how to pay for my abortion. Today, through my work with Women Have Options, I’m paying back my good fortune, because if a woman can’t afford her choice, she doesn’t really have one.
Part of what motivates me to stay involved is my vision for changing the cultural conversation about abortion—integrating women’s personal stories into the cultural conversation on abortion, humanizing the face of abortion, so that the conversation isn’t simply about fetuses and rights and something called “choice.” So that people realize that we probably all know someone who has had an abortion, that it’s a normal part of women’s lives. Stories of abortion have power. I have seen that power in action, and have seen how these stories—both my own story of abortion and the stories of other women—help raise funds so low-income women in Ohio can afford their reproductive choices. I’m just getting started…
2. How long have you been with Women Have Options? And how has your role changed over the years?
I’ve been involved with Women Have Options for over two years. When I attended my first board meeting as a visitor, I was asked to serve as co-chair. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Women Have Options was beginning to experience a beautiful renaissance. Women Have Options is a small organization that has had an impact on Ohio because of the vision and leadership of an amazing generation of woman leaders—a group that was seeking new leadership or was considering closing. At that meeting, I was one of several people who joined the board and vowed to keep the group going.
Recently, we have found ourselves in exciting new territory. Over the past two years, our organization has indeed experienced a renaissance and is flourishing with a dynamic board that spans several generations of women—from age 21 to age 77—all of whom believe deeply in our mission.
After a few months, my co-chair had to step down from the position and I became sole board chair, which certainly put my insecurities to the test. Fortunately, the board is a wonderful group of talented, passionate women: they are patient with me and excited to see our group thrive. At the end of 2010, I left my corporate career to focus on Women Have Options and reproductive justice activism full time. Gradually, I am finding my voice.
3. Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? If so, what does feminism mean to you? And when did you first realize that you were a feminist?
Absolutely. I love the word “feminist” and am a proud feminist. Indeed, one of my favorite associations with the word is how I met my partner. My partner and I met through an online dating site several years ago. The title of his profile said he was “Seeking a Dynamic Feminist with Good Politics.” I figured we’d make a good match. Indeed!
There is no discreet moment where I became a feminist. It’s been part of who I am for as long as I can remember. Perhaps this reflects the privileges that have shaped who I am.
Moreover, throughout my life I’ve always connected feminism with reproductive rights at a fundamental level. Since the dawn of my political consciousness as a teenager, I’ve been deeply, viscerally pro-choice. When I was about 16 years old, I remember watching the evening news, which was covering an election, probably the 1998 presidential election. Watching the news, I encountered a phrase that was completely new to me: litmus test. I wondered if I would have a litmus test for candidates once I was old enough to vote. Immediately I knew that I would, and it would be the issue of abortion. Viscerally, I knew that reproductive freedom meant bodily autonomy—for me and for women in general.
4. What are some of the challenges of working in the pro-choice movement? What are some of the rewards?
Working in this movement is deeply rewarding, especially connecting resources to help low-income women afford the rights that women of means take for granted. Many of the women who are served by Women Have Options share their stories with us, stories which are endlessly moving, fascinating, human, wonderful, and terrible. Reading these stories reinforces my desire to fight the injustice behind them.
Some of the rewards—and some of the challenges too—come from working in coalition with other groups, or even other movements. Women Have Options is part of Ohio’s progressive pro-choice coalition, and we have come together to oppose the unprecedented assault on reproductive freedom in Ohio this year. I am also a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, which has helped connect Women Have Options more deeply in the pro-choice community. Additionally, I am the Ohio Regional Coordinator for Raising Women’s Voices, a national initiative that works to ensure that women’s concerns are addressed as health care reform is implemented. All of these connections have, I hope, strengthened the pro-choice movement in Ohio.
5. When you’re not busy with work and activism, how do you take care of yourself?
Seems like I have to relearn this lesson periodically. Sleep and exercise. No two ways about it. I am relearning this lesson as we speak.
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.