[John Murdock is an attorney who writes from Boise. This column, reprinted with permission, appeared on firsthings.com on April 7, 2023.]
Jean Rohe really wants you to know that she had an abortion. In the dehumanizing song “Animal,” for which the folk singer earned a 2022 songwriting award at the long-running Kerrville Folk Festival, Rohe recounts her trip to the Bleeker Street clinic where eugenicist Margaret Sanger blazed the trail for Planned Parenthood. Invoking a garden metaphor, she embraces the power to uproot her offspring.
O, the morning glory is beautiful
But it strangles the tomatoes and chives
So I pull the weeds to save the vegetables
It’s the gardener who decides
Oo, body of an animal Oo, power of a god
One inevitably thinks of the original garden, which Adam and Eve were tasked to care for: “cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Accompanying promotional art for the song incorporates the serpent and forbidden fruit of Eden. Like Eve, Rohe wishes to “be like God.” But unlike Eve, she does not slink away in shame.
Rohe is not the first to sing of her abortion. For example, Stevie Nicks wrote the Fleetwood Mac song “Sara” in part about a child who lived briefly in her womb. The shift in sentiment from the veiled lament of Nicks to the explicit defiance of Rohe mirrors our culture—from “safe, legal, and rare” to the “shout your abortion” and “abortion on demand and without apology” placards of today.
While Rohe has sadly embraced the tempter’s lie, she is still frustrated by the limits of her power.
Seven months later I sat in a hospital
Helplessly watching as my father died
I called out for mercy, kindness, a miracle
I don’t always get to decide
Thus, at the time she would have been preparing to give birth to a child, Rohe faced the passing of the man who gave her life. It’s a sorrowful juxtaposition. Rohe is a child battered by death but trumpets the power to batter her own.
I was unaware of Rohe before I heard her sing in Portland, Oregon, where she was the opening act at a David Wilcox concert. The remainder of the lyrics, and a lengthy concert introduction, left no doubt regarding the topic. The progressive West Coast crowd dutifully applauded—though only about two-thirds, leaving me some hope that even here a remnant of respect for human life endures.
A clear occupant of the religious left who sprinkles in events at liberal churches as he tours, Wilcox had previously always produced shows that were thoughtful, humorous, and uplifting. Songs like “Hold It Up to the Light” showed a trust in God’s good guidance when prayerfully sought. One wishes that, upon learning of her pregnancy, Rohe had followed Wilcox’s musical advice. Instead, she “raged in the car” at pro-lifers as she “called every clinic in every town I would be passing through.”
Wilcox’s decision to amplify Rohe’s work was a stunning disappointment to this longtime fan but is perhaps indicative of abortion as nonnegotiable for those catering to left-leaning audiences. While some voice discomfort over abortion despite supporting pro-abortion Democrats, most seem to have gotten the “all in on abortion” memo.
Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal, and rare” trilogy was a lie at every step, the kind of misdirection designed to soften the hard edges of the reality of abortion. Rohe will not stand for the obfuscations. She bluntly proclaims that, yes, children, like morning glories, are beautiful in certain circumstances—but she is more powerful, and her will alone determines who lives or dies. The garden of her life will be the better for it.
Give her points for honesty, but it is a stark brutal honesty. For decades, the prolife movement has worked tirelessly to bring the humanity of the unborn child front and center. “Face it, abortion kills” says the sign. Now, rather than hide behind platitudes, many like Rohe are willing to bluntly acknowledge what they are doing. In this age of “all publicity is good publicity” and at a time when claims of victimization are used as tools for advancement, I pondered whether to call out Rohe by name. She might well wear critique in a conservative religious publication as a badge of honor, and Rohe herself had no problem reducing pro-lifers in her song to faceless “men without a clue.” Yet, protest as she might, Rohe is no mere animal but a creature bearing the image of God and called in Genesis to the work of godly stewardship rather than the shedding of innocent blood. She deserves the dignity of a name, as did her child whom she reduced to a weed. In the future, may Rohe tend her garden well and be blessed with the gift of abundant life.