There's this predictable phenomenon that happens every time a legislative or judicial shift threatens reproductive rights. It started happening last week on Twitter and has made it to Facebook by now. People talk about their abortions—especially the terminations of wanted but life-threatening pregnancies, but also the terminations of pregnancies resulting from rape or abusive relationships—laying their trauma bare in public to demonstrate why reproductive rights are necessary. And I get the reasoning behind it. But I also question its effectiveness as a tactic. The minority who want to ban abortion are manifestly not moved by the pain of pregnant people.
Silvia Federici, who has written extensively about the correlation between reproductive restrictions and the rise of colonial capitalism, also discusses the way Enlightenment beliefs were complicit in justifying this oppression. Descartes, she notes, was convinced that animals, lacking reason, could not feel pain. He thus performed a number of vivisections without any pangs of conscience.
Which is to say: showing that you're suffering is not always enough to convince your oppressors and tormentors to stop oppressing and tormenting you, especially when they have a vested interest in ignoring your pain.
I mention this because it's a mistake I've made as a lyricist a few times. My default reaction, when legislation threatens, seems to be to write a tragic protest song. "South Dakota Blues" is a representative title, and no, I will not be posting that notebook page here; it's a horrible song, humorless and heavy, trying for tragedy and landing instead on melodrama. In short: trying to lay bare the pain of a pregnant protagonist for a world that is manifestly unmoved by pain.
So then: how does a good song about abortion work?
"Brick" is one of the first that comes to mind. I would say it works in much the same way as "Hills Like White Elephants"—by not actually mentioning abortion directly. "The Freshman" is another one that never mentions it directly; apparently plenty of listeners don't know that's what the song is about. "Sally's Pigeons" is more direct (it mentions the back alley), but still firmly in the tragic mode (Sally dies). Sad, oblique literary melancholy. It works for these songs—I don't think it's necessarily a bad way to tell these stories—but why is this the only way we tell them?
What I am getting at, I guess, is that I am looking now for a song that works differently, and particularly one that doesn't paint abortion solely as a woman's problem. Because pain and tragedy are clearly insufficient as activism, and if people keep feeling they have no choice but to publicize their trauma I will just go numb with mute fury. It's a whole person who gets pregnant—not a walking womb—and that's a person with the full range of feelings, not just Oh No Sad Tragedy. Sometimes abortion isn't tragic at all. Sometimes it's not that big a deal. Sometimes it sucks, but it's the right call. But! Also! There's an unspoken story of reproductive rights to every song about getting it on, getting off, meeting someone's eyes across the room, saying hi like a spider to a fly, having your back against the record machine, being all right in a kind of a limited way for an off night. The flamboyant sexual freedom of rock and pop music is entirely—and silently—dependent on reproductive healthcare. I'm looking for the songs that acknowledge that. And if I can't find them, I have to figure out how to write one.