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Bye bye baby? The rise of abortion playlists

Abortion is generally understood as something sad or shameful, but a new trend of feel-good playlists rejects the stigma around the procedure entirely

Abortion is not funny. That’s the view held by many people on the topic, anyway. In 2012, Sarah Silverman was made to apologise for talking too “casually about abortion” on social media. The comedian posted a picture of her inflated stomach after eating a burrito and joked that she “got a quickie aborsh in case R v W gets overturned”. When the film Obvious Child, dubbed the first “abortion rom-com,” premiered in 2014, one of its stars, Jenny Slate, told The Guardian that the “movie isn’t saying that abortions are funny. It’s saying that people are funny.” That same year, Mindy Kaling told Flare that her gynaecologist character in The Mindy Project would not perform an abortion, as it “would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom”. Most recently, And Just Like That, the puzzling sequel to Sex and the City, included an abortion storyline in their second season but refused to use the word “abortion”. Instead, they fearfully tiptoed around it as if saying it would leave them struck by lightning.

The general consensus that abortion is no joke is understandable. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022, the death of a woman in Poland after she was refused an abortion, the jailing (and subsequent release) of a mother in the UK for taking abortion pills during lockdown, and the recent decriminalisation of abortion in Mexico, after a long fight by activists; abortion is, evidently, serious. It can’t possibly be a subject that we speak about casually or laugh about. Or could it?

If you go on Spotify and type in the word “abortion”, you won’t only be met with podcasts on the history of abortion rights but also with uplifting and hilarious playlists made by those having abortion procedures. One playlist titled POV: You’re having an abortion is filled with feel-good tunes that the playlist’s creator urges their listeners to put on while they’re at the clinic. From “Hit’ Em Up” by Tupac, “Sorry Not Sorry” by Bryson Tiller, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” by Kendrick Lamar to “One Dance” by Drake, these songs aren’t soft, melancholic or regretful – but loud, demanding and lively. Culturally, abortion is understood as something sad or shameful, but this playlist rejects the stigma attached to the procedure entirely. Abortion is rarely celebrated for being a life-saving medical intervention, but in many ways, this playlist does that. The clinic becomes a place to have a boogie rather than a place to be fearful of.

Another playlist creatively titled Abortion playlist isn’t too fussed about whether the songs are musically uplifting. Instead, it cares more about the message each title conveys to the listener. From songs like “I Can’t Carry This Anymore” by Anson Seabra, “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift, “Born to Die” by Lana Del Rey, “I Hate U” by SZA to “You’re Dead” by Norma Tanega; this playlist tells an unapologetic and darkly comical story through its song titles, enacting what academic Jeannie Ludlow calls the re-symbolisation of ‘foetal materiality’.

Pro-abortion discourse and anti-abortion discourse exist within a binary. Historically within that binary, anti-abortion discourse uses the imagery of the aborted foetus to villianise those who decide to have abortions. In contrast, pro-abortion discourse firmly places the pregnant person at the centre of the conversation. However, this pro-abortion playlist still centres the pregnant person through songs like “I Want My Life Back” by The Wrecks while also referencing the foetus through songs like “Bye Bye Baby” by Taylor Swift. The re-symbolisation of foetal materiality within this playlist shows that the foetus doesn’t just belong in anti-abortion discourse, and including it can help us expand how we think about abortion, especially when it comes to more difficult abortion experiences and narratives.

What makes these playlists particularly fun to listen to and interact with are the tensions within them. The second playlist mentioned above includes songs that conjure up imagery around death and babies, and typically, those two topics discussed together aren’t met with a favourable reception. But as feminist comic scholar Hillary Chute argues, there is power within narratives that have a “constant, active, uneasy back-and-forth”. While this playlist was obviously made in jest, it presents its listener with a certain level of discomfort – the discomfort it creates makes it funny – but it’s uncomfortable nonetheless. This playlist evokes feelings of complication because abortion is a complicated subject. While many liberals argue that one should never ask someone why they’ve decided to have an abortion, as it is “their choice”, we need to understand how social, political and economic problems can and do impact people’s decision to become parents or not. It is not always as simple as it being “someone’s choice”.

Abortion playlists provide their listeners and creators with distraction and fun. And from the number of likes each playlist has, they show those having abortions that they’re not alone in their journey, no matter how secretive people still are about having abortions. These playlists also inadvertently invite their listeners to face the tensions, the ambivalences, the conflicts and the joys that shape abortion experiences. Conflicting and uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can exist within pro-abortion narratives, and this acknowledgement can make our understanding of abortion even more inclusive. So, if you are having an abortion, listen to an abortion playlist. You won’t regret it.

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