Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, musicians and artists of every stripe have come forward to express their fury. Lady Gaga dedicated her Chromatica Ball tour set to abortion rights. Rage Against the Machine committed a cut of its tour proceeds to abortion groups. Billie Eilish, who previously delivered profanity-laced rants onstage about abortion after the passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act, told her fans that it was “a really, really dark day for women in the U.S.” At the Glastonbury Festival, rapper Megan Thee Stallion led chants of “My body, my motherf***ing choice,” and Phoebe Bridgers started chants of “F*** the Supreme Court!” And on it goes.
The music industry’s support for the abortion industry is nothing new. In the 1990s, the organization Rock for Choice channelled artists’ advocacy into fundraising for abortion groups. Rock legend Janis Joplin became a financial benefactor of the Tijuana clinic where she had procured her own (botched) abortion. Frank Sinatra’s mother earned the gruesome nickname “Hatpin Dolly” for her long practice of performing illegal abortions (although her son was purportedly devastated to discover that his wife Ava Gardner had aborted two of their children). Rock ’n’ roll, after all, is slang for sex—but it is the babies who pay the primary price for free love.
Considering the music industry’s support for abortion, it is revealing to consider how the artists and others in the industry actually portray the experience. A handful are cruel, even gleeful—in his biography, Marilyn Manson related the abortion of his child in graphic terms, describing the doctor “tearing out the brain of our child with a pair of forceps.” But most admit to feeling depression or even horror at the experience. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith described the saline abortion of his child to a friend: “It comes out dead. I was pretty devastated. In my mind I’m going ... what have I done?” Even Joplin admitted that she regretted her abortion and that she believed it had worsened her psychological struggles.
Trauma and regret are far more common than “Shout Your Abortion” defiance. Suzi Quatro admitted, “I couldn’t get out of my mind who that first baby would have become … Any woman who’s been through an abortion and tells you it was nothing is lying.” Sharon Osbourne concurred: “It was the worst thing I ever did … I howled my way through it, and it was horrible. I would never recommend it to anyone because it comes back to haunt you. When I tried to have children, I lost three—I think it was because something had happened to my cervix during the abortion.”
Indeed, political propaganda can deceive—but art derived from experience rarely does. Madonna, a fierce abortion activist, told TIME in 1996 that she regretted her abortion, even though she had believed her lifestyle to be incompatible with motherhood at the time. When she sang about a girl being pressured to kill her child in her 1986 hit “Papa Don’t Preach,” she portrayed the expectant mother pushing back: “Papa don’t preach I’m in trouble deep / Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep / But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby / I’m gonna keep my baby.”
Rapper Nicki Minaj confessed that she regretted her abortion and sang about the lost baby in “All Things Go”: “My child with Aaron / would’ve been sixteen any minute / So in some ways I feel like ’Caiah is the both of them / It’s like he’s ‘Caiah’s little angel, looking over him.” Singer Beth Torbert, known to her public as Bif Naked, named a song after a baby she aborted when she was 18: “I hope you can forgive me: my baby Chotee, forgive me.” Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac also named a song after the baby she and Don Henley aborted, “Sara”: “Wait a minute baby / Stay with me a while / Said you’d give me light / But you never told me about the fire.” And Sinead O’Connor imagined her lost aborted daughter in “My Special Child”:
Think about my little girl
Her yellow skin and her dark curl
And how her father’s heart was frozen
I spoke to her and I said:
“You won’t regret the mother you have chosen.”
I lied. Where’s she tonight?
One of the most chilling portrayals of abortion in song is found in “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols. John Lydon wrote the story after a mentally unstable fan allegedly showed up on his doorstop, holding an aborted baby in a plastic bag. In his autobiography, he relates that this young woman described her abortions in excruciating detail. One line in the song sums up what he heard: “Throbbing squirm, gurgling bloody mess.”
As America enters the post-Roe era and her artists rally for the abortion industry, what should we believe? Should it be their political sloganeering, their fat donations, their profane chants? Or should it be the truths they tell us when they sing of nightmares and pain and longing? Should we believe them when they tell us abortion is about reproductive health, or when they sing of the lost little boys and girls that still clutch at their hearts in quiet moments? When the artists speak, they tell us abortion is a fundamental right. But when they sing, they tell us that when the songs give way to silence, the yawning emptiness is large enough to swallow entire lives.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist.
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