FEATURE: Pregnant Pause and Ultrasound: Should Subjects Like Abortion Be Taboo for Musicians?



Pregnant Pause and Ultrasound


ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash 

Should Subjects Like Abortion Be Taboo for Musicians?


TOMORROW is a historic day…


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

not only for Ireland but the world as a whole! The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution is in the news and causing a lot of discussions right now. For anyone who needs clarification and explanation (as to why abortion is illegal in Ireland), it can be explained thus (thanks to Wikipedia):

“…Abortion had been subject to criminal penalty in Ireland since 1861; the amendment ensured that legislation or judicial interpretation would be restricted to allowing abortion in circumstances where the life of a pregnant woman was at risk. It was approved by referendum on 7 September 1983 and signed into law on 7 October 1983.

The amendment was adopted during the Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government led by Garret FitzGerald but was drafted and first suggested by the previous Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey. The amendment was supported by Fianna Fáil and some of Fine Gael, and was generally opposed by the political left. Most of those opposed to the amendment, insisted that they were not in favour of legalising abortion. The Catholic hierarchy and many lay Catholics supported the amendment, but it was opposed by the authorities of other mainstream churches.[1] After an acrimonious referendum campaign, the amendment was passed by 67% voting in favour to 33% voting against”.

There are exceptions to the law – when the life of the mother is at risk – but the strictness of the Eighth Amendment means many pregnant women have fled overseas to have an abortion. One can look at religious arguments and why many consider all life to be sacred.


That may be true for many people but not ALL life is sacred and precious – not all life is wanted and planned. By forcing women to give birth to unwanted life and, perhaps, raise a child they did not ask for seems to contradiction the notion of ‘pro-life’. If you value the life of all people then the mother should have a say what happens to her body and life. In more rational parts of the world, there is a clear line when a foetus can be aborted – it is a medical and philosophical line that weighs up the danger to the mother and that debate when a foetus turns into a ‘life’. For the most part, the law puts the mother’s life and well-being ahead of moral and religious forethought. Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act 1967 makes it clear when abortion, in England, Wales and Scotland is legal:

"Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith -

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family; or

(b) that the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated

(d) that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped".


In Ireland, there are different debates and concerns. The nation is much more religious and devout when it comes to the moral and religious aspects of abortion – the fact it is seen as a sin/murder seems to shout louder than the mental and physical considerations of the mother. It seems strange that such an archaic and one-sided law has been on the books for so long. Voters will cast their opinion tomorrow and decide whether abortion will be legalised across Ireland. I am desperate to see the law banished and consigned to the bin of history. There is a reason why we have a twenty-four-week cut-off for abortion in this country: the loss of any life is sad but, if a woman has not planned the pregnancy, it is her right to decide whether she wishes to continue with it! I will, as I have done a lot, bring in a recent piece by The Guardian – who spoke to musicians tackling pro-choice and abortion debates – and why artists are speaking out and not remaining silent. There are certain areas of music that struggled to find oxygen and acceptance in the mainstream. In fact; things are tougher than that:  a lot of listeners and radio stations seem to wince when certain subjects are explored in songwriting. I remember when Jenny Hval’s album, Blood Bitch, arrived a couple of years back.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Dublin trio of Sissy (who have addressed and tackled the stigma around women's reproductive rights in their music)

It looked at, among other things, menstruation and periods and I recall a lot of reviewers questioning whether it was ‘right’ to talk about something so personal and (to them) unpleasant in music. I can understand why subjects like rape, abuse and race are discouraged if the intent is to offend, shock and divide. Artists like Eminem have spoken freely about rape and domestic abuse: many know it is part of a persona; others wonder whether it is questionable allowing songs that seem to revel in violence and sexual assault to see the light of day. Abortion and childbirth have been used in songs for many decades now. I would say the purity of life and new birth is much more common: can you recall many songs that look at abortion and, especially, the choice of the mother to terminate a life?! Given the sort of division abortion creates; many songwriters have skirted the issue by employing euphemism, oblique imagery and side-stepping explicit reference. In Ireland, particularly, artists have been reticent regards tackling an issue that has split the population. Given the fact women have to go to other nations to have an abortion; what are the penalties for a musician that freely sings about aborting a foetus and seems to ‘normalise’ something in a country that has very strict morals?!

I will bring in that promised article that looks at the role of church and state in Ireland; how far the nation has come in the past few years:

When the same-sex marriage bill passed in 2015, thanks to an enthused Yes campaign, it revealed how far modern Ireland had come. The result marked a break with a past in which church and state were essentially indivisible, and proved that power lay with the people. The Repeal campaign has channelled the momentum behind a similarly charged issue – and it’s a fight to which Ireland’s musicians have given voice”.

The article looks at high-profile musicians speaking about the Eighth Amendment vote and pro-choice; others have been guarded and seemingly distanced themselves through fear of reprisals and commercial depreciation. It is the unsigned/underground artists, who have less concern regards commercial pressure and label tyranny, that are speaking up and having their say. There is a passage from the article that stood out:

High-profile artists including Sinéad O’Connor and Hozier have expressed their support, while others, such as Ed Sheeran, have made more cautious statements. But it’s emergent and unsigned artists who have captured the pro-choice mentality in song. Among them are Dublin feminist garage punk trio Sissy, whose single Sail and Rail tackles the struggles that Irish women face regarding reproductive autonomy. Titled after Stena Line’s Ireland-to-England fare, it’s a fist-clenched, three-minute blitz: “Me and Enya on the sail and rail / Two unwanted pregnancies / But soon we’ll be bikini-ready”.


You do not need to travel far and do too much research to know there are complications associated with stress during pregnancy and leaving things too late. Many women have died, who hail from Ireland, after travelling abroad and having to have abortions performed in unsafe settings; not terminating until late in the pregnancy or suffering incredible stress that has led to a miscarriage. The fact that many women have no choice in the matter makes me wonder, again, whether Ireland has an irony blind-spot when it comes to ‘pro-choice/life’ and what that means. Surely, the life of the mother is as important as the unborn foetus? Their voices and bodies are not considered when they are forced to give birth to a baby they did not want – it is not their fault and it seems appalling they should go to desperate lengths to have an abortion. The fact many Irish artists are dealing with the subject in explicit and eye-opening terms is a good thing. The stubborn and dictatorial grasp of the DUP in Ireland means such a historic vote has garnered such importance and relief. Even if, God help us, the law remains come this time tomorrow; I hope many realise there are people out there who are opposed to the abortion laws and do not want to remain silent. I am hearing about performances in Ireland where bands like Sissy have performed songs (that look at abortion) and it has sparked conversation, education and transparency.


One imagines cloistered and monitored conversations in Ireland: a Big Brother-like state that tuts and spits whenever someone dares to utter something as wicked as talk of abortion! Whilst this is an exaggeration; musicians are unwilling to code their messages and restrict themselves to clandestine gigs due to pressure from government/opposed factions. There is a hard-line sector – driven by religious outrage – who will fight the repealing voices tooth and nail; the kind of people who have caused anxiety among many in Ireland. I raised an argument that asked where we draw the line concerning ‘controversial’ issues – whether we can talk about domestic abuse and rape if its intention is to condemn and halt. Artists who sing about these subjects with ill concern and a sense of vainglorious confidence – why should they find success and applause when artists singing about abortion – which is legal in the free world – are chided and judged?! It seems like a contradictory and fucke*-up logic that has led to an explosion and a rebellious urgency. I will end this piece but want to revisit The Guardian’s article and a sector of songwriters one wouldn’t assume would write about abortion: men:

Male artists have also rallied behind the cause. Focusing on the experiences of the women who have to travel, often alone, to access abortion clinics abroad, Your Body by Dublin indie rock threesome Shrug Life aims straight for the Irish government’s jugular:

Ill-equipped with unnamed burden
Options blocked for paths unplanned
At age 19, made to understand
Advice goes no further than the law will allow it
And you’re on your own if you need a way around it.


 Frontman Danny Carroll says: “Rather than just sloganeering, I wanted to put some narrative and detail around that initial lyric – ‘Your body is not your body / It’s the property of church and state.’ I tried to imagine the tragic absurdity of being on a Ryanair flight home, being surrounded by hen and stag parties, being sold scratchcards by flight attendants and asked about your holiday. After the emotional strain of deciding to undergo that medical procedure, hopping the hurdles of our archaic legal system, it struck me as an acutely Irish indignity”.

I hope the vote goes the correct way – the amendment is repealed and women will have the same rights as those in other parts of the world – and the subject of abortion is no longer stigmatised. It will be a hard transition and I am sure there will be revolt and calls for a recount. I feel women and men should be free to oxidise the subject of abortion because it warrants debate and expression. Even in England, where abortion is legal if seen as wrong by many; artists are afraid to address it in music because they feel they’ll be criticised and see their songs alienated from the airwaves. The brave and fed-up artists we see taking the perversion and indignity (in the sense they are crushing stupid moral arguments and archaic laws) out of the issue – mainly in Ireland – have helped highlight a portion of Irish law that has caused a lot of damage through the years.


I was only four-months-old, in 1983, when Ireland voted whether abortion should be allowed if there was a risk of death to the mother – two-thirds allowed that stipulation…a rather modest and insignificant allowance. It seems the art of songwriting is a powerful and affective way of cleaning up polluted waters and bringing something, long-shadowed and temporised, to a wider audience. We do need to have guidelines when it comes to songwriting and subjects that should not be explored – or, the way the artist explores that issue – but music is a pulpit that should encourage freedom of speech and political discussion. However tomorrow’s vote goes down; we should not suppress artists, like those we are seeing in Ireland, who want to talk about things like abortion and a woman’s right to terminate. This week is not only historic in terms of democracy and giving inalienable rights to women (in Ireland); it is part of a process that is seeing bold and motivated artists speak up and refuse to be silenced. Power to them because it opens up dialogue and takes away the stigma of abortion. There is change and evolution in the air right now – whether that will translate into a sensible vote decision remains to be seen. Musicians, at least, are having their say and, when it comes to the once-taboo subject of abortion and its moral issues, they are repealing….


SUCH ancient laws.