Channeling anger to retain rights

Judy Kahrl, Founder of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights

Judy Kahrl never thought she’d be spending her retirement fighting for reproductive rights. But, at 82, the founder of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights has never been busier.

The women of GRR!—who are now in their 60s through 80s—lived through an era when women died from botched abortions, when it was illegal for an unmarried woman to get contraceptives, and when girls “went away” to give up babies under a cloud of shame.

“We believe that a lot of women in their 30s and 40s took access to family planning for granted, because it was always there for them,” Kahrl says. “Now young women are waking up to the fact that this could be snatched from us. Unless we women—and men who care about these issues—get together and fight for these rights, we will lose them.”

Kahrl’s father, Clarence J. Gamble, was a physician who began advocating for family planning back in the 1930s. In 1957, he founded Pathfinder International, now a global nonprofit focused on reproductive health, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and care, and maternal health. Kahrl has been on the board of directors since the beginning and has traveled the world, seeing firsthand the difference that family planning makes.

“For women who don’t have access to family planning, life can be really hard,” Kahrl says. “But women with more control over when they bear children and how many children they have are able to get more education, hold jobs they might not otherwise be able to hold and feed the children they already have.”

Kahrl raised four children with her late husband Stanley J. Kahrl, and she has eight grandchildren. She worked as an educator and counselor, retiring in Arrowsic 20 years ago. Then, in the past decade, she started to see the political tides change, and she got angry—leading her to the epiphany of the acronym GRR!

“Anger is something women are taught not to have, but we all have it. Anger says that we want change,” Kahrl says. “If we listen to that anger we can transform it into something positive—like educating people about reproductive rights.”

Hundreds of people are on the GRR! mailing list, and about 40 are actively involved, writing and calling legislators, speaking on panels, and lobbying in Augusta and Washington, D.C.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough.

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