President and Founder
Julia G. Kahrl, Ph.D.
Judy Kahrl grew up in an era when the topic of family planning was so scandalous that it simply wasn’t discussed in polite society. However, her father, a physician, developed an early interest in birth control. Dr. Clarence Gamble promoted contraception in the US during the 1930s and 1940s. He faced opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. The medical profession was reluctant to provide contraception because it was associated with licentiousness. The American Medical Association did not recognize contraception as a medical service until 1937.
Dr. Gamble’s work took him abroad after World War II to countries in the developing world. Judy traveled with him in 1955 to Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, India, and Sri Lanka.
In 1957, he and Judy’s mother founded the Pathfinder Fund. A family foundation aimed at expanding access to birth control around the world. It has since become Pathfinder International. It continues its work in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
Her father’s controversial work fostered an independent spirit in Judy. As a young mother when few women breastfed, Judy became active with La Leche League and promoted breastfeeding as the most natural and most nutritious way to feed a baby.
In January 2013, Judy visited a Pathfinder project in Mozambique. She met with a group of grandmothers caring for their grandchildren whose parents had died from the AIDS pandemic. They were talking to their communities about birth control. The power of grandmothers at work! When she returned home, she sent an email to a number of friends of her generation. They met that February and gave birth to Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights (GRR!).
Judy serves on the board of Pathfinder International. Becoming a grandmother raised her awareness of the increasing restrictions on sexual and reproductive health care. Politicians claimed restrictions were “for the protection of women and girls.” Judy saw them as attacks on a woman’s right and ability to decide whether and when to have or not to have a child. She believes that every child should be a wanted child.
Who we are
As members of the generation that grew up in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, we lived in the days when women in this country had little or no access to birth control. Abortion was illegal and women were dying after unsafe abortions. For many women, the only way to stop getting pregnant was to have a hysterectomy.
Forty years later, many of us are grandmothers – older, and perhaps wiser.
We are proud of the progress we made in the 20th century to improve access to reproductive services, but every day we see more signs that our rights to healthcare are being eroded by new restrictions.
In February 2013, a group of older women decided to gather and share our stories about when we were young. We expressed concerns about increased restrictions on access to contraception and abortion. We remembered when abortion was illegal and access to birth control was very limited. One woman had been sent away to give birth. She had to give her baby up for adoption.
We were frustrated that despite our past efforts, our daughters and granddaughters may still be denied their reproductive rights. At the same time, we’d been inspired by grandmothers around the world taking action to make the world a better place for younger generations. We know grandmothers have great power. And so we decided to act.
Angry, we formed a group called Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights, nicknamed GRR!. Our mission is to protect the reproductive rights for which we had fought for decades ago.
We are committing to the next decade of progress in defending reproductive rights and making the full range of reproductive services available to every woman and family in the country.
GRR! provides testimony in state legislatures that support access to reproductive health, rights, and justice. We host numerous educational discussions with policy- and decision-makers, college students, and the community at large. We advocate for comprehensive sexuality education to ensure that young people have full information that leads to healthier choices. We work to combat shame and public stigma related to women’s sexuality.
Over the past two years, we have committed our resources and expanded our partnerships to fight systemic racism in our healthcare, criminal justice, and economic systems.