Loretta Lynn, the Grammy-winning country music icon who died Tuesday at 90, lived — and sang — decades of breakthroughs for women’s social movements, achievements now under threat.
A mother several times in her late teens, she gave voice to those who had historically had little control over childbirth and their own sexuality. Some of her songs reflected the lives of many rural women and mothers, lamenting their invisible labor and the repressive and gendered roles that kept them tied to a singular identity.
For some of those working in reproductive health care in her home state of Kentucky today, Lynn’s music proves too relevant. Lynn, who sang about birth control after Roe v. Wade became a landmark legal decision protecting abortion rights, died just months after the United States Supreme Court overturned the 1973 case, creating a massive shift in reproductive rights across the country. In November, Kentucky voters will decide whether or not to eliminate the right to abortion from the state constitution.
Kate Collins, 34, wasn’t of the generation that heard “The Pill” or “One’s on the Way” when they first played on the radio, but Lynn’s voice provided a soundtrack- his to his childhood. Along with growing up in a home where classic country music was part of the lexicon, Collins grew up in a family that talked about abortion and birth control, which led her to start volunteering as a escort to a clinic in Kentucky. But it wasn’t until high school that she began to set the context for what Lynn was singing.
“She talks about being able to wear whatever clothes she wants,” Collins, who now volunteers as a case manager on the Kentucky Health Justice Network’s abortion hotline, said of “The Pill” from 1975. “Thanks to my access to birth control, I could go out to bars with my friends and wear miniskirts. And that’s not something I had to think twice about until what the lyrics finally hit me.
“The Pill”, written by Lorene Allen, Don McHan and TD Bayless, was recorded before the Roe v. Wade, but Lynn held on to the song for years before she felt fans were ready to listen.
“When we brought it out, people loved it. I mean women loved it,” she wrote in her 1976 autobiography, “A Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “But the men who run the radio stations were scared to death. It’s like a challenge to the way men think.”
Country music men sang about abortion, premarital sex and divorce in the 60s and 70s with little or no comeback, but it was rare that a woman could sing about wanting to enjoy sex with her husband without the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. , as did Lynn.
“It’s really about nothing but controlling women and their pleasure, or anyone who can get pregnant and their pleasure,” Collins said.
Lynn was candid about her experiences giving birth so young, being mentally and physically unprepared. She wrote that she couldn’t afford to spend the night after the birth of her second child, so she went home to wash diapers and fetch water from the well 24 hours after giving birth. She had miscarriages and almost died because she had no money to go to the doctor. And she continued to get pregnant, giving birth to six children.
She wrote that she couldn’t even sign her own consent form to have a C-section because she was still underage and her husband, Oliver Lynn – known as ‘Dolittle or ‘Mooney’ – was in the process of to work and inaccessible.
“I love my kids but wish they had the pill when I first got married,” she wrote. “I couldn’t enjoy the first four children; I got them so fast. I was too busy trying to feed them and put them in clothes.
She said birth control was a way for women to protect themselves: “Wellness is getting easy now/Since I got the pill/It’s dark, time for bed/Tonight it’s is too good to be real/Oh, but daddy, don’t worry/Cause momma’s on the pill,” she sang.
And she didn’t mince words about her feelings about abortion.
“That’s also why I’ll never say anything against the abortion laws they simplified a few years ago,” she wrote in her 1976 memoir.
“Personally, I think you should avoid an unwanted pregnancy rather than have an abortion. I don’t think I could abort. It would be bad for me,” she added. “But I think of all the poor girls who get pregnant when they don’t want to, and how they should have the choice instead of being left with it. to a politician or a doctor who doesn’t have to raise the baby. I believe they should be able to abort.
According to Collins, Lynn was explaining – in her own way – the idea of bodily autonomy. Collins also sees a connection between the rollback of abortion rights and attacks on gender-affirming care for transgender people.
More than 45 years after Lynn sang about the pill, in Kentucky and many other states, clinics are prohibited from offering abortions. While self-managed abortions using prescription drugs are safe and highly effective, Collins worries about the desperation that sets in among those who seek help and the collateral damage of people having dangerous pregnancies or miscarriages. layers.
“It’s really easy to feel like we’re flipping the discography and now we’re going from ‘The Pill’ to ‘One’s on the Way,'” she said.
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