Amanda Shires wants people who have had abortions to feel less alone in their decision.
The Grammy-winning singer and songwriter released “The Problem,” about a couple navigating the decision to have an abortion, on International Safe Abortion Day. All proceeds will benefit Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization serving the Deep South.
Shires said the song was originally written in 2016 and narrated by a group of women discussing the decision to have an abortion.
“Its first incarnation was talking about another girl’s abortion. It just struck me that it’s not something we all talk about, and it should be something that we talk about,” Shires told Reckon in a telephone interview. “And when you hear people talk about it, you usually hear ‘em describing somebody else — whether it’s really somebody else or ‘asking for a friend,’ you never really know.”
Instead, Shires uses a young couple’s conversation about whether to have an abortion to propel the song, echoing her own experience with abortion in her late 20s.
I’m trying not to think of names
And will you look at me the same?
Do you need the reasons why?
Is a chrysalis a butterfly?
Shires had an abortion in Tennessee when she was with her now-husband Jason Isbell, a singer-songwriter who hails from Green Hill, Ala. Shires said she still struggles to talk about her experience gracefully. She has kept the experience private, scared of negative feedback she or her family would receive.
The song features Isbell as the woman’s supportive partner. He sings in the chorus:
And all I could think to say
Was Everything’s going to be okay
It’s going to be alright
I’m on your side
I’m on your side
Shires said she knew before she got pregnant what she would do if she was to become pregnant, but was hindered from terminating her pregnancy due to Tennessee’s strict abortion requirements. Tennessee requires state-directed counseling to receive an abortion.
That state requires patients to receive an ultrasound and then wait 48 hours before the procedure is provided. There are five clinics in Tennessee, but none that offer abortion after the first trimester. Alabama, where the Yellowhammer Fund is based, has three abortion clinics.
“The difficult part is not the part where you make the decision,” Shires told Reckon. “The difficult part is when you’re having to go through all the hoops and find a way to do it. When I decided to get an abortion, I had an embryo. By the time the state allowed me to do it, I had a fetus. And that’s cruel.”
Shires has released six solo albums and won the 2018 Grammy for Best Americana album. She co-founded the Highwomen in 2016 with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris. In September 2019, they released their first album, “Redesigning Women,” its self-titled single paying homage to the modern working family woman.
Shires and Isbell are known for being outspoken about civil and women’s rights online, a trait she wants to instill in their 5-year-old daughter, Mercy.
“[Mercy] asked me and Jason: ‘I’d really like to fly. Maybe. Can we fly?’ And I was like, ‘You know, the closest we can really get to flying, I think, is finding something we’re passionate about and doing that thing that we love every day.’”
For Shires, conveying this idea through music connects people regardless of background or creed. She said she hopes “The Problem” can open people to empathetic conversations about reproductive rights.
“Here in the Deep South, abortion is already incredibly difficult to access, even before a new president is elected or another Supreme Court Justice is appointed,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, in a press release.
“As a fellow southerner, Shires understands those difficulties as well as the negative stigma surrounding abortion. We are thankful that she wrote this song and is telling a story that’s rarely heard.”
The song can be purchased here.