It’s starts with a book editor and literary agent, Irene Villar, making a personal contribution to the world of book publishing:
Her nightmare is part of an awful secret, and the real story is shrouded in shame, colonialism, self-mutilation, and a family legacy that features a heroic grandmother, a suicidal mother, and two heroin-addicted brothers. Hers is a story that touches on American exploitation and reproductive repression in Puerto Rico. It is a story that looks back on her traumatic childhood growing up in the shadow of her mother’s death and the footsteps of her famed grandmother, the political activist Lolita Lebron.
That sounds like typical book promotion boilerplate and, in fact, it comes from Vilar’s Website for her memoir. But what is her nightmare? I might be society’s scorn, but I guess it’s that she had 15 abortions in 16 years. Read that again. I have friends who spend two or three years and tens of thousands of dollars trying to get pregnant. Villar, apparently, had no problem with that part. It was what came next that she couldn’t follow through on and that she writes about in “Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict.”
Shocking as Vilar’s admissions are — and, for the incredulous, the Los Angeles Times confirmed the number — her story has become even more disturbing as she’s done the media rounds. Why? Take a look at these closing quotes from a hollow ABC News puff piece:
Vilar blames much of her poor choices on a hypersexualized society that at once values the perfect mother, but also expects women to be sexually attractive to men and to achieve professionally.
“Women have a deep need for agency, for purpose and direction and society is not providing natural and healthy channels for creative action,” she said.
“In school and on TV, every message I get is what I am doing as a mother or wife is wrong,” said Vilar. “I should be thinking about a profession and not mothering. Everyone is having babies, and yet they don’t want to care for them.
“Are many of the repeat abortions in part an embodiment of this mixed message? A lost, ambivalent attempt at an act of agency that cannot find its proper vessel?”
In other words: Is there someone or something else I can blame for my decisions because I really don’t feel like baring the responsibility.
I’m not doubting that Vilar has had a tough life, that the actions of those close to her impaired the decisions she made and forced her to face demons that most people never see. And Vilar has the right to focus on those factors as being the cause of her life choices. But they were still her choices, and it’s a reporter’s duty to question such deflections and deferrals.
Let’s see if LA Times did any better in its feature about Vilar:
Even before it was published last week, Vilar’s story unleashed a wave of emotion in the anti-abortion community. Reactions have included pity and — at least in one blogger’s case — a call to put her behind bars.
On the abortion rights side, reaction has been muted.
“The majority of pro-choicers — and I don’t blame them — are somewhat confused,” said Vilar. Vilar believes that access to legal abortion saved her life because she would have found a way to end her pregnancies no matter what.
In 2008, the manuscript found its way to Judith Gurewich, a Lacanian psychoanalyst who taught at Harvard and runs the publishing house Other Press.
“As a publisher, I need a good story, and the fact that it’s quite intellectual and well written is what attracted me to it,” said Gurewich.
In the wake of scandals involving embellished or fabricated memoirs, Gurewich hired (“for the price of a small house,” as she put it) an attorney to vet Vilar’s claims. The attorney confirmed to The Times that Vilar produced medical records proving most of the procedures. (Some clinics do not keep records for longer than seven years.)
Vilar, for her part, was stunned to learn while gathering her medical records that she had forgotten about one abortion.
The Times‘ story paints a picture of Vilar’s kids playing in the yard of their Denver home, discusses some of the difficult Vilar had in getting the book published and talks about why Vilar said she had more abortions than FDR had years in office.
Certainly, Vilar’s published accounting of her “abortion addiction” leave even pro-choice advocates squirming for wiggle room. The LA Times discusses the reactions, at length; this is briefly touched on in the ABC News piece. But, again, no real hard questions for Vilar or anyone who would defend her behavior. Though, that person would likely be difficult to find — and I’m not sure Vilar would accept that it was her behavior that led to these outcomes.
There are many, many difficult questions to be asked here. But it seems everyone wants to use the kid gloves with such a fragile soul.