Confessions of an "abortion addict"

The memoir of a woman who had 15 abortions might be gripping. But does her story really represent a larger trend?

Published September 22, 2009 1:23PM (EDT)

Irene Vilar is a self-described “abortion addict.” In her forthcoming memoir, "Impossible Motherhood," she claims to have had 15 procedures. An excerpt of her book, available online, promises “an account of my addiction, a steady flow of unhappiness” -- oh, goody! -- “and ultimately, the redeeming face of motherhood.”

The redeeming face of what, now? You don't need to be a pro-choice absolutist to be put off by this language; for one thing, it's dispiritingly similar to the countless other memoirs of addiction and trauma on the market. For another -- and here's where fellow pro-choice absolutists may recoil -- it recalls the rhetoric of antiabortion activists who paint women who abort pregnancies as damaged and victimized.

Yet Vilar identifies as pro-choice. “I wish to stand as representative of women who have remained silent,” she writes.  And therein lies the problem.

There's little doubt that Vilar's pain is real. She's written, in the past, about her mother's suicide and her own psychiatric hospitalization. This memoir apparently includes a bullying husband, self-mutilation and suicide attempts. Her history is specific, personal and -- from the sound of it -- harrowing. It should be respected. What it should not be is “representative.”

This is not a view shared by ABC News, apparently; it recently ran a story linking Vilar to other women who have “multiple abortions.” (The most frequent abortion-haver in the story, other than Vilar, had terminated only three pregnancies.) Her story taps into common fears about abortion, shared even by some pro-choicers:  That, given choice, people will have the wrong kind of abortions, or will have them for the wrong reasons, or will have too many. That -- to be blunt -- freedom really does mean freedom for everyone. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life for anyone living in a democracy. Yes, the fact that women have the right to choose abortions means that some woman can choose to have 15 of them. It also means the rest of us are free to have as few or as many as we like. Most who abort will stay in the single digits; more still will not abort at all.

Presenting Vilar as the face of women who abort is like presenting an alcoholic as the face of people who buy wine. A “steady flow of unhappiness” sells books; so do extreme behaviors. They're far from “representative,” whatever that means. 

By Sady Doyle

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