Roughly one in four women will have one. You probably know one of them, whether she’s told you about it or not. As of 2017, they’re at a record low rate in America, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that birth control is covered by private insurance as out-of-pocket costs. Sixty-one percent of Americans say it should be legal in all cases, but a considerable subsection of them, especially in the South, don’t have reliable access to it. That’s right: we’re talking about abortion — and the musicians who are working to preserve access to it.
If you’ve seen some of your faves posting about the issue on Instagram (Kim Gordon and Karen O doing it caught my eye), you’ve probably been seeing the work of a New Mexico-based initiative called Noise For Now. They play matchmaker between musicians who want to support reproductive rights, including abortion and local funds. They aim to destigmatize the conversation around abortion. Hence, part of their plan is to ask artists to post about the organization and why access to healthcare for women is essential. Co-founder and President Amelia Bauer moved to the Southwest from New York after the 2016 election and, while trying to find a way to get involved with local reproductive rights organizations, ended up organizing a concert to benefit the National Organization For Women. It outraised all the big donor dinners and galas they had been putting on.
The idea to work as a connector between those with a large audience — your favorite musician — and small, local abortion funds hits at a targeted play to provide access to reproductive health care that includes abortion to women who are systematically cut off from it. Since 2011, Texas has lost 25 clinics. In the Midwest, 33 clinics have shut down. In the South, it’s 50. Even after the TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws that closed them were largely overturned by the courts, most of those clinics have not reopened. There’s no doubt that in specific regions of America, the right to choose is under attack. Meanwhile, 59 new women’s health clinics opened in the Northeast. More and more, having access to reproductive care and abortion is a matter of how much money you have and where you live.
“When you have state legislators working against the will of the people, they create barriers to abortion for people without means,” Bauer explains. “Anyone with means can travel to another state to access abortion if they can’t reach it near their home. That means people who work multiple jobs, who can’t get time off, who can’t afford a plane or bus ticket, who can’t afford childcare are left out of access to safe abortion.” She notes that in the U.S., where most abortions are performed in clinics, the procedure is extremely safe, while in countries where it has been outlawed and criminalized, it becomes dangerous for women. That’s why Noise For Now focuses on working with funds that support and are run by Black, brown, indigenous, and undocumented people.
For Bauer, her work in New Mexico started with an eye on preserving the access that women in nearby states traveled to get — and in making that travel and all the things that go with it, from the time off work to childcare, possible. The current Supreme Court, which leans more conservative than it has in generations, has caused many to worry about stripping away the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling. It is what guarantees women the right to have an abortion under the Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy, as explained in the majority opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun — a lifelong Republican. With the current slate of justices, Bauer predicts the worst, saying, “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think it’s very likely it will survive this court.”
Amanda Shires is all too aware of the restrictions placed on women’s access to reproductive rights. In Tennessee, 96% of the counties have no facilities that provide abortions. The issue is also bleak for women in neighboring Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi — the latter has only one clinic and three facilities in total where women can obtain an abortion.
“Part of the problem is if people are out protesting [clinics], they’re protesting contraceptive services, HIV testing, hormone therapy, treatment for erectile dysfunction, and all kinds of stuff they don’t even think about. And cancer screenings. And LGBTQA+ hormone therapy,” Shires points out. She later continues, saying, “What I try to do is say, to the best I can, is that I’m on your side, whatever side of this you choose, in hopes people don’t have to walk around feeling alone.”
For Shires, who performed at Noise For Now’s Voices For Choice event and the Pro Roe Tee Campaign for Planned Parenthood, talking about things is the most effective way to destigmatize them and affect change. “It sometimes feels hard to make a change on your own because you can’t. If you can align and affiliate and help and take action, then I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel like I can sleep a tiny bit better at night,” Shires says.
Shires released “The Problem” near the end of 2020. This song imagines a conversation between a couple discussing abortion, with proceeds benefitting the Yellowhammer Fund. This Alabama-based fund offers financial and logistic support to those in need of abortion in the state. Yellowhammer is also a fund that Noise For Now has supported. Its Executive Director Laurie Bertram Roberts points out that having these conversations in spaces where it’s typically verboten, namely among the conservative audiences of country music, is part of removing the stigma.
“We need to be talking about how we make sure we’re having these conversions in spaces we may not think are welcoming, but are maybe more welcoming than we think they are,” Roberts says and notes that some of the most significant legacies in country music have been all about women’s issues.
“Amanda’s song is one is a long legacy of country women artists giving social critique. It goes back to the first women in country music. It goes to Kitty Wells. It goes to Loretta Lynn and ‘The Pill.’ Even Tammy Wynette singing ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E.’ All those things were controversial at the time, but it tells women’s stories. Even Martina McBride talking about ‘Independence Day.’ Those are women telling their stories in a way that made it accessible and acceptable to talk about those subjects.”