Pop Public Health: “The Pill”

Country legend Loretta Lynn married at 15 and had 4 children before age 20. (And a few years later had twins!) Her musical success in the 1950s and 60s was a triumph for women, who had few country icons. Many of Lynn’s most successful songs discussed her family life, motherhood, and being a real country woman. “The Pill,” recorded in 1972 and released in 1975, blasted conversation about birth control in rural communities into the mainstream.

Oral contraceptives, known as “The Pill” have not been available for that long. The 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, decided that married couples had a right to use the pill to prevent contraception and Eisenstadt v. Baird decided that single people had a right to use the pill in 1972.

In ‘The Pill,” Lynn proudly sings in the chorus: “This old maternity dress I’ve got / Is goin’ in the garbage / The clothes I’m wearin’ from now on / Won’t take up so much yardage / Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills /Yeah I’m makin’ up for all those years /Since I’ve got the pill.” In total, she sings that she’s “got the pill” 7 times in a song that’s just about two and a half minutes.

When Lynn’s label released “The Pill” in 1975, it immediately caused controversy and many country radio stations refused to play it. A 1975 People magazine article noted:

From his pulpit, a preacher in West Liberty, Ky. recently denounced country singer Loretta Lynn and her new song The Pill. The effect was to send much of the congregation scurrying out to buy the record. More than 60 radio stations from Boston to Tulsa have banned the song, but through word of mouth and the FM underground The Pill is selling 15,000 copies a week. For Loretta Lynn, the most honored woman in country music, it is her biggest hit ever.

Lynn’s response to critics of her song was as frank and cavalier as the lyrics: “If I’d had the pill back when I was havin’ babies I’d have taken ’em like popcorn. The pill is good for people. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anyone’s. But I wouldn’t necessarily have had six and I sure would have spaced ’em better.

Lynn later stated in an interview with Playgirl that she’d spoken with several rural doctors who told her that “The Pill” had been especially helpful in communicating the benefits of oral contraceptives to women in rural communities.

Mainstream acceptance of contraception was and is still a huge issue for people of reproductive age. Just last week, The Trump administration “moved to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception.” The 55 million women who had the right to copay-free birth control are now at risk of employers using personal religious beliefs to deny access to contraceptives. Without insurance, birth control pills can cost $50 per month, a birth control implant can cost up to $800, and intrauterine devices can cost up to $1000. Certainly all of these are less expensive than pregnancy, giving birth, or raising a child, but the cost of preventing pregnancy can be significant enough that women may not be able to afford reliable methods of contraceptives.

Sexually active people of all ages, religions, and race are all very likely to use or have used contraceptive methods to prevent unintended pregnancy. It’s unfortunate that the current political administration is attempting to curtail access to reliable and safe contraceptive methods. (Call your senator!!) It seems like, in 2017, we could also use a few new popular songs about birth control, right?