No Intermission to Amanda Palmer’s Fight for Humane Abortion Rights
By: Kasia Jezak
Artists are often the first in a society to see and expose hidden social ills, but the coincidence of Amanda Palmer’s new album, There Will Be No Intermission, with the rise in restrictive anti-abortion legislation across the United States could not have had better timing. March 8, 2019, marked the release day of the long-awaited album, which was crowd-funded through Patreon. I caught the tour on April 19 at Boston’s historic Orpheum Theatre, confronted with an emotional 4-hour long gig riddled with personal stories and confessions in between songs. The gig focused heavily on Palmer’s attempts to write an authentic song about abortion in the past (which manifested previously in sarcastic tunes like “Mandy Goes To Med School” and “Oasis”), and her final success with the song “Voicemail For Jill” on her new record. Not long after the album’s release, Ohio, Georgia, and Alabama signed restrictive anti-abortion laws designed to force Roe v. Wade back into the Supreme Court.
I first came across Amanda Palmer as part of the dark cabaret duo, the Dresden Dolls, formed in 2005, along with drummer Brian Viglione. She has since released three solo albums and opted out of working with a record label, choosing to crowdfund her newer work through Patreon. In an interview with Clash, Palmer described the songs from her new record as “exercises in survival.” The performances on her tour have been as vulnerable as her songs, with Palmer taking the stage solo, accompanying herself on piano or ukulele. Her stripped down music paired with stories of her different struggles have left thousands of fans sobbing at shows all over the United States and Canada.
Palmer had her first abortion at age seventeen, and has had a few more since for various reasons, so this subject has been important for her to breach in her music. In “Voicemail For Jill,” Palmer sings to Jill, a woman who is getting an abortion the next morning, gently vowing to throw her the “best abortion shower,” alluding to the stigma surrounding abortion. The song laments the millions of women who are too ashamed to tell anybody about their abortions, despite the “statistics.” As a result, many women are forced to undergo this “strange grief” by themselves, with no one to comfort them. Pregnancy is celebrated, but abortion is usually silenced, even though both require emotional support. Palmer strives to turn this situation around for Jill, even if she cannot do so for the millions of other women. She promises to gather some friends and bring some cake and flowers over to Jill’s, where they can “talk for hours.” Even though Palmer sings to Jill, the song reflects her own experiences and the support she had been missing in her own life during similar struggles.
Despite the fact that the song is personal, “Voicemail For Jill” has undeniable political roots. Palmer penned it in the wake of the landmark referendum to legalize abortion in Dublin, after a coinciding visit to the Irish capital. Having struggled to write effectively about abortion throughout her entire musical career, the song also represents the increasing honesty of women about their gender-charged experiences since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. Only several weeks after the beginning of Palmer’s tour, pursuits of new anti-abortion legislation in various U.S. states have garnered media attention.
In 2019 alone, over a dozen states have pursued stricter abortion regulations. On April 11, Ohio passed a “heartbeat bill” banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know that they are pregnant. The new law allows exceptions in the case of medical emergency, but no exceptions in the case of rape or incest. On May 7, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a similar “heartbeat bill” into law, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but only if the victim has filed an official police report. On May 14, Governor Kay Ivey signed the “Alabama Human Life Protection Act,” which would criminalize performing an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy (with exceptions in the case of a medical emergency, but not for rape or incest). Doctors who performed abortions could face up to 99 years in prison, but the person who received the procedure would not be culpable. Similar laws have been signed in Kentucky and Mississippi, and North Dakota and Iowa have already enacted such bans, in 2013 and 2018, respectively. “Heartbeat bills” have also moved in Tennessee and Missouri, and been introduced in Florida, Illinois, New York, Maryland, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Minnesota.
There has been a national outcry since the rise of these bans, which fail to respect basic human rights and the rights of victims. Many women seeking abortions have been caught in the recent panic, assuming that the new laws have rendered their abortion appointments cancelled. However, even though these bills have been enacted, many of them will not go into effect for several months, and they are certain to face litigation when they do, since they are still unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade rulings. Currently, under Roe v. Wade, Americans have the right to abortion until the fetus is considered viable (usually at 24-25 weeks). Signing state laws that will force Roe v. Wade to be reconsidered under a Supreme Court with a conservative majority has been the main goal of Republican senators.
One of the major flaws of these bills is that they operate under the assumption of fetal personhood, which would affect not only abortion laws, but all laws that account for persons. For example, the Georgia bill would allow expectant mothers to start receiving child support payments during their pregnancies, since the fetus would be treated as a person. Another major flaw of this new legislation is that it fails to consider mental illness as a serious medical exception that would allow for abortions, even under a six-week ban. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have vowed to fight these restrictive laws in court.
As a fervent advocate of women’s rights, Palmer was outraged at these new bans, using social media platforms like Instagram to reach out to affected fans. With a show coming up at the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta on May 17, just 10 days after the Georgia ban was signed, Palmer vowed to use the opportunity to turn herself into “a one-woman weapon of truth” and “fight this darkness with [her] whole life.” Hundreds of fans responded in protest of the new legislation, and a few days before the Atlanta show, Palmer declared that the event had turned into a “pro choice rally,” as did her May 18 show in Nashville. She began to give away free tickets on her Patreon, choosing to use her platform as an artist to spark social change. Palmer vowed to fight until every woman she knows is “free of shame and stigma.” After the Atlanta show, Palmer called it one of the “most memorable days of [her] career” and promised to post a blog recounting the emotionally charged day on her Patreon “when the dust settles.” Fans are still awaiting her words.