Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights advocate across Maine for what they once lacked

In Feb 2013, a group of Maine grandmothers who grew up in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s founded Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights (GRR!). Their mission was, and is, to serve as stewards of the reproductive rights with which they did not grow up.

Elayne Richard is a GRR! member from Fairfield, Maine. She spoke to the Echo about the group’s work in Maine, which includes outreach at the Common Ground Fair as well as at colleges. People are going to farmers markets and giving out information there. We do a lot of letters to the editor, we make phone calls, and we speak to our legislators,” Richard said.

Discussing how GRR!’s work is specific to Maine, Richard explained the difficulties they face. “The challenge for Maine is that it’s such a big state geographically and we have people up in Presque Isle who want to be as involved as those of us who live close to Augusta and[…]things are happening in Augusta or things are happening in Portland so mobilizing all of us is a challenge.”

However, she stipulated, “The passion is not a challenge. The passion for working with GRR! is strong everywhere from Fort Kent to Biddeford.”

Richard reflected on the unique character of the state legislature in affecting GRR!’s work. “I think the legislature is accessible,” she said. “And if you want to go and speak to your legislature, you can.”

She said that this open quality of the legislature gives groups like GRR! the opportunity to have concrete influence. “What it allows us to do is it allows us to talk about our concerns about laws that are pending—it allows us to help work with legislators to form laws. So when you have a passion for something and you have support from your own personal legislator or someone from another part of the state, you can work with them to get those laws passed.”

Richard credits this ability to work with legislators to the various successes GRR! has had. “Now, we’re able to have MaineCare pay for abortions; [it is] why we’re able to have other medical providers provide abortions as long as it’s in its scope of practice. It’s why we’re able to have vending machines that are able to dispense medications. It’s because this is supposed to be a people’s House [of Representatives] and we are accessible.”

Richard and her counterparts expressed their belief that they had gained recognition within the Maine State House, describing how they “come in with our bright yellow shirts and our yellow pins and our yellow scarves and they know who we are.”

This recognizable presence serves a more important purpose than just visual recognition: “For laws that are being discussed and debated that are really tough, like MaineCare covering abortion, it’s really important to our supporters there to have us there having their backs. That’s where we sit, right behind them, and that’s what gives them the strength to do what they need to do.”

When asked why GRR! adopted yellow as its signature color, Richard responded, “I think it’s because it’s bold but it’s cheery at the same time. That’s kind of a grandma, bold and cheery.”

Richard provided insight into how GRR! members grapple with the divisive issues they promote. For Richard, “What I try to do is stick to my topic. I don’t engage in negative bantering back and forth. And I think the most important thing for me is to find some common ground with whoever I’m talking with. My own state [representative] is not very supportive of this. My rep is Shelley Rudnicki and when I talk with her on occasion about this, she’s a grandma and I’m a grandma, she loves her kids and I love my kids, and she loves her grandchildren and I love my grandchildren.”

When talking with anyone, Richard tries to find ways to connect. “If we can start from that, ok we’re not always agreeing on this but when people can see that they have a lot more in common than they don’t have in common, you start seeing people just a little bit different. Also, I think if you’re really passionate and believe in reproductive justice [then] the core of that, that everyone has a right to have children, everyone has a right to not have children, and everyone has a right to raise the children that they chose to have in safe and sustainable communities, that’s pretty hard to argue about. So if you just stay on that message, you can get through those conversations that are hard.”

This sentiment can be seen in one of GRR!’s upcoming initiatives “We’re encouraging people to start talking about abortion and about abortion care at Thanksgiving tables. Because talking with families is sometimes even harder to talk to people you don’t know.”

Richard explained why GRR! members feel that they have a specific role to play in the fight for reproductive rights. “I think it’s just really important that those of us who have been through life prior to Roe v. Wade, which allowed us to make these choices, to continue to tell these stories.”

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 United States Supreme Course case which protected the access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right, is central to GRR!’s dogma. Richard explained, “Sometimes [Roe v. Wade] doesn’t even come into your thinking, you go ‘oh my gosh, I need some birth control, oh I can just go right here and get it.’ Regardless of who gets elected in 2020 or who gets elected in 2024, we will never go back to times like that. It’s really important for us to be having conversations with  [young people]…because soon there won’t be as many of us around as there are you, and bearing witness to those times is a really important thing to do.”