She’s Been a Feminist From Then Till NOW : Rosalie Abrams Looks Back on Roots of the Cause


Twenty-seven years ago this month, Rosalie Abrams was picketing the Orange County Medical Center in Orange, carrying a sign that read: “If Men Bore Children, Abortion Laws Wouldn’t Exist.”

Some 47 women had been denied abortions at the hospital, which is now the UCI Medical Center. Most of the abortions in Orange County were performed there until hospital administrators placed a “moratorium” on the procedure. The moratorium was sparked by protests from medical school resident physicians over the heavy workload of more than 20 abortions a week.

“This is only the beginning,” Abrams told a local newspaper reporter as she and five other women walked a picket line in front of the hospital, calling for abortion on demand. It would be another three years until the U.S. Supreme Court established abortion rights under Roe vs. Wade.


The picket line was the first organized demonstration by the fledgling Orange County chapter of the National Organization for Women, founded by Abrams seven months earlier, in September 1969. The local chapter was the county’s first major feminist organization.

“In the early days, we would be sworn to secrecy because some of the women were fearful that their husbands might find out that they came to a feminist meeting,” the 75-year-old Abrams said. “It’s hard to imagine now, but it was dangerous for a lot of women, especially those who were abused and who really needed to have some kind of a support group.

“At the time, we all believed that people would begin to see the wisdom of what we were saying--it all made so much sense. We didn’t realize how all-pervasive sexism is. We did make some great strides, but they are now being slowly eroded away.”

There is fire in her eyes and an urgency in her voice as she speaks, standing in a large room of her Anaheim home filled with political posters and pamphlets where fellow feminists often met throughout the years to plan strategy. When she speaks, she finds it hard to keep from standing.

It is the same passion she brought to her performances with the Orange County Feminist Repertory Theatre, an organization she founded in 1971 as a theatrical device for political thought.

“I’m auditioning people now for a new program. It will embrace more than just the local issues we have here now. We recognize that there are things that our country has been instrumental in doing that perpetuate the oppression of women all over the world.


“There are companies in our country that hire seamstresses in other countries and pay them very low wages. We have a responsibility to be aware of what our purchases are doing. There’s also a terrific increase in prostitution around the world because that’s the only way that some women can exist. There are not enough jobs for women. In some countries, when girls are born, they’re being thrown away. It’s a global world and a global economy that we’re involved in and we’ve got to take responsibility for it.”


In the United States, Abrams would like to see the recently revived Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution win approval, to help women reach full equality with men, especially in the workplace. One version of the ERA was reintroduced to Congress in March, without a ratification deadline. Another measure, called the “three more states bill,” would require only three states for ratification by counting the 30 states that previously ratified the amendment.

“The rights that women have in this society need to be enforced, that’s why we would like an Equal Rights Amendment. All it says is that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of sex.”

The continued harassment of women seeking abortions throughout the United States is proof to Abrams that the battle she began on the picket line 27 years ago is not over.

“The whole question of women not being able to control their own bodies is very important, because so much hinges on it. We did get Roe vs. Wade, but things don’t happen in straight lines. The more successful you are, the worse the backlash becomes.”

Abrams believes each new generation should know how vehemently women’s rights were opposed in the United States, and how easily those rights can erode without constant vigilance.


“A lot of young women now don’t realize the struggles that women went through to get what we have now. They don’t realize that the groundwork was laid by people like Susan B. Anthony, who struggled and worked for 50 years, giving speeches all over the country. It’s hard to say that any one issue is the most important issue for women now, because the issues are all linked together.

“Women need to take control of their own lives, in all areas.”


Profile: Rosalie Abrams

Age: 75

Hometown: Brooklyn

Residence: Anaheim

Family: Husband, Maurice; two children; four grandchildren

Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater arts from Cal State Fullerton; teaching credential in theater arts, social studies

Background: Founded first Orange County chapter of National Organization for Women in 1969, served as president in 1971; founded Orange County Feminist Theatre in 1971, which became Orange County Feminist Repertory Theatre in 1985, for which she directs, acts and writes plays and programs on social issues; secured lease with her husband for county’s first Feminist Women’s Health Center in 1973; active with numerous women’s organizations; lectures on feminism in schools and universities; active in numerous abortion rights and antiwar demonstrations; awarded the Veteran Feminist Medal of Honor by NOW in 1996

On feminist progress: “There is now so much literature on women’s issues available and so many groups to help women have some kind of a support system. But at the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult for women to get a safe abortion, to find a decent job and to get good care for their children.”

Source: Rosalie Abrams; Researched by RUSS LOAR/For The Times