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.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 United States Supreme Course case which made access to safe and legal abortion a constitutional right, is central to GRR!’s dogma. Elayne Richard, a GRR! member from Fairfield, Maine, spoke to the Echo about the group’s work and 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 get abortions], to continue to tell these stories.”

Richard explained that because of the geographic size of Maine, it can be hard for GRR! to involve all of its members because their work happens mostly in the state capital of Augusta, in Central Maine, and the largest city of Portland, in Southern Maine. “We have people up in Presque Isle who want to be as involved as those of us who live close to Augusta…so mobilizing all of us is a challenge.”

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

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

She said that the openness of the legislature gives groups like GRR! the opportunity to have concrete influence on state laws. “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,” she said.

Richard credits GRR!’s ability to work with legislators to the various successes the group has had. These include three 2019 laws, one allowing MaineCare to cover abortions, one allowing medical professionals like Nurse Practitioners to perform abortions (which increased the number of clinics in the state that can perform abortions from three to 18), and one permitting over-the-counter medications (including PlanB) to be sold in vending machines.

Richard and her counterparts said that from their years of work, they had gained recognition within the Maine State House. Richard said that the group will“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.”

Richard said that GRR! adopted yellow as its signature color 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 handle the divisive issues they promote. When talking with anyone, Richard tries to find a connection. For example, “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, [I know that] 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.”

Although she knows that many people are opposed to GRR!’s goals, Richard said that the things they advocate for are not as controversial as they seem. She said that the core of their work is 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.” In her opinion, “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, which is encouraging people to bring up abortion and abortion care at their Thanksgiving tables. “Because,” Richard said, “talking with families is sometimes even harder to talk to people you don’t know.”

Richard said that GRR!’s work is important because young people born after Roe v. Wade was passed can take it for granted that they have access to birth control. So, GRR! members share their stories of the time before abortion was a right and advocate for that right for the future. “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],” she said. “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.”

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