Isobel Anderson’s powerful new song I’m a Life highlights the plight of Northern Irish women forced to travel abroad for abortions – and flips harmful anti-choice rhetoric on its head.
People who fervently oppose women’s reproductive rights tend to have a few favourite talking points. One of the most fundamental anti-choice arguments is that life begins at conception – and that therefore a woman is effectively committing murder if she chooses to terminate a pregnancy. No matter that four out of every five abortions in England and Wales are carried out at under 10 weeks, several months before a foetus would stand a chance of surviving outside of the womb. No matter that a woman’s life could be ruined if she is forced to have a baby as a result of rape or incest, or if she simply can’t afford or doesn’t want to have a child. No matter that women die when they are forced to continue with pregnancies that endanger their health. In the eyes of the anti-choice lobby, it is always the life of the foetus – not the life of the woman – that matters.
But a powerful new music video flips this narrative on its head. In her song I’m a Life, musician Isobel Anderson tells the true story of an Irish woman who was forced to travel to England for an abortion – and reminds us that women should have the right to choose how their lives unfold.
The lyrics to I’m a Life are taken verbatim from the testimony of a real Irish woman known only as Janet, who shared her account of her journey to England to have an abortion in 2015. She was one of 4,284 women who travelled from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to have abortions in England and Wales that year – stressful, lonely and expensive journeys that could have been avoided were they able to access safe and legal abortions at home.
While women in Ireland were granted the right to abortion at last year’s landmark referendum, terminations are still illegal in almost all circumstances in Northern Ireland, including when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and when the foetus has a fatal abnormality that means it wouldn’t survive outside the womb.
The video sees a diverse group of women lip-syncing to Anderson’s retelling of Janet’s story – a multi-layered effect that highlights how women of all generations and backgrounds are harmed by Northern Ireland’s effective ban on abortion.
“I have only one regret, and that that’s I had to travel far away and go through it all alone, the hardest way,” Anderson sings.
“But I am not alone in my choice, and it’s a choice I don’t take lightly. There are many others who have taken this journey like me.
“This is my body, you don’t decide what’s inside. You can try and shame me, but you forgot I’m a life.”
The lyrics to I’m a Life reflect the fact that many women who have abortions are mothers who simply can’t afford or do not want to have more children. Nearly half of Irish women who received abortion care in the UK before last year’s referendum already had children, while 55% of women who had abortions in England and Wales in 2017 had previously had pregnancies that resulted in a live or stillbirth – suggesting that a significant number of them were mothers.
These statistics undermine the toxic notion that women who have abortions must have necessarily been reckless or promiscuous, as though that would somehow invalidate their right to choose. “When I see my children I know this journey saved my life, and I respect that others would have a different path to take,” Anderson sings.
I’m a Life concludes by reminding us that being pro-choice is not the same as assuming that abortion is the right choice for every woman. It simply means respecting women enough to let them make their own decisions about their bodies and their lives.
“Oh, well this is no means a commandment,” Anderson sings, “just an end to silence and shame.”
Explaining why she chose to use Janet’s testimony as the basis for the lyrics to I’m a Life, Anderson says she didn’t want to misrepresent the experiences of Northern Irish women who have had to travel abroad for abortions. The singer-songwriter, who won the prestigious PRS Women Make Music award in 2018, is originally from East Sussex, but moved to Belfast in 2009.
Last year, Anderson reached out to the organisation Alliance for Choice – which campaigns for abortion rights to be extended to Northern Ireland – about collaborating on a music video.
“The video features many of our activists, some of whom have been campaigning for decades, some who have travelled for healthcare and others who have helped people access abortion services when they needed them,” a spokesperson for Alliance for Choice said.
“We are so honoured to have Isobel approach us with her song. It’s such a beautiful song about making sure our voice is heard.”
And Janet – the woman whose testimony Anderson transformed into song lyrics – said she cried when she watched the video for the first time.
“They were complex tears, of surprise, tinged with sadness and then of joy,” she said. “When I shared my story four years ago, I had no idea of the impact it would have.
“I am deeply honoured to hear some of my words in Isobel’s song and I hope it had a profound effect on people as it did on me.”
To find out more about Alliance for Choice’s important work campaigning for the 1967 Abortion Rights Act to be extended to Northern Ireland, visit alliance4choice.com.
Images: Alliance for Choice