Juniors Rachel Baron and Uma Blanchard are starting a campus chapter of the reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Blanchard is majoring in Anthropology and Government and minoring in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, and Baron is majoring in Government and English. The two first met in their GWS first year seminar and bonded over their shared interest in feminism and reproductive rights.
As they matured at Bowdoin, living together in Burnett House their sophomore year, they began to develop dissatisfaction with the feminist culture they were experiencing on campus, one Blanchard described as, “consciousness raising.” She explained that she often encountered the attitude that told her, “Here are things that are really bad for women; let’s make ourselves feel better about them, not change them.”
Rachel observed an irony she had noticed in her Government classes, “It’s always confused me that about 40% of us are Government majors and yet I think overall, not just in women’s issues, there’s very little activism. That’s always struck me as bizarre.”
They hope to offer a hands-in-the-dirt, politically focused alternative.
Last summer, the two found their opportunity to bring a more political feminism to Bowdoin when Rachel got an internship at NARAL Massachusetts. It was there where she expanded her understanding of reproductive rights. “It’s not just abortion and contraception,” she told me, “Reproductive rights is about having the kids you want at an age when you’re ready. It’s about protections for working mothers and wage inequality. All of these are related to reproductive rights but don’t apply to college students so we don’t talk about them.”
The Bowdoin chapter will be affiliated with NARAL Massachusetts because there is no NARAL state affiliate in Maine.
Earlier this semester, Baron and Blanchard teamed up with the Kurtz fund, the Sills fund, and the GSWS program to bring Katha Pollitt, reproductive rights advocate and author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, to campus, who underscored the importance of introducing an outlet for students to be long-term advocates for reproductive rights.
Though the group is still in the official chartering process, Baron and Blanchard have already gauged significant interest on campus. Once they have their charter and can begin to meet regularly, they intend to lobby the Maine state legislature by organizing letter writing campaigns and publishing op-eds. Before the legislative session begins, they will focus on drawing attention to reproductive issues on campus. The group hopes to partner with local reproductive rights groups like the Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
At the end of our conversation, I asked Blanchard and Baron what they perceive to be the biggest threat to reproductive rights at the moment. Although neither is worried about the complete overturn of Roe v. Wade, Baron cited “little erosions” to reproductive rights as her primary anxiety, for example the “trap laws” in some states, including 48-hour waiting periods and requirements that abortion providers have hallways of a certain width. She noted that these restrictions particularly affect economically disadvantaged women.
Although Maine is a state with fewer threats to reproductive rights than most (NARAL gives Maine an “A” for choice-related laws), Baron and Blanchard remind us that we cannot be complacent.
As Blanchard put it, “It’s frustrating that the last person that these little changes are going to affect is me. If I needed to get an abortion, I could go wherever I want to do that.”
Blanchard and Baron are not only bringing a political feminism to campus, they are also bringing one that is concerned with the world beyond our Bowdoin bubble.