Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell depict a couple having an honest, difficult conversation about abortion in the new song “The Problem.” The track’s release coincides with International Safe Abortion Day and proceeds from its sales will go to the Yellowhammer Fund, a reproductive justice organization based in Alabama.
Shires wrote the song a few years ago and originally imagined it as a conversation between several women, but revamped it to feature her collaborator and husband. The timing of “The Problem” and the fact that it’s benefiting the Yellowhammer Fund are both important, as draconian, punitive abortion laws have been enacted in Alabama and neighboring states in the last year.
Likewise, the changes underway to the Supreme Court after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg could also mean that abortion rights will come under fire nationally. On top of that, Shires notes, the “pro-life” stance doesn’t typically extend past birth.
“The South is in need of a lot of help,” Shires tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t understand why it’s such a big issue, as big of an issue as it is. Because once you have a baby, there’s no social programming to help. It’s all control.”
Opening with solemn piano chords, “The Problem” features Isbell’s voice first, then Shires joins, and the pair trade lines as they move the story along. Shires’ character wrestles with the decision and the right thing to do in her situation, while Isbell’s character offers his support for whatever decision she makes. “And all I could think to say/Was everything’s going to be OK/It’s gonna be all right/I’m on your side,” he sings.
“The subject isn’t talked about enough,” Shires says. “When you’re trying to make a tough decision, you need a lot of support. Wherever you get that support — whether in a relationship or friends — no matter what you believe, you can believe to support somebody through something hard.”
“The Problem” wraps up by driving home the weight of the decision for her character. “Do you think God still sees me, coming out of this twilight sleep?” she asks, before the band carries the song out with a powerful extended coda.
“There’s so much attached to folks thinking women treat it as a kind of birth control. People forget,” Shires says. “Some of the reason [“The Problem”] is only coming out now is fear on my part, and I’ll admit that. It’s an often-times divisive topic, and I don’t want to bring any hurt to my family by doing something like putting out a song about this topic, but I lost all that fear when I got angry. Then I’m like, ‘This is coming out now.’”