National Review Online recently published a piece by Kevin Burke on Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith fame) and his traumatic early experience with abortion. Tyler met a girl named Julia Holcomb at one of his concerts in 1973, when he was 25 and she was 16. They immediately became an item, and Tyler became her legal guardian, moved her into his apartment in Boston, and conceived a child with her. The story said that friends convinced them they should have an abortion. Of the abortion, Tyler wrote in the band autobiography:
“It was a big crisis. It’s a major thing when you’re growing something with a woman, but they convinced us that it would never work out and would ruin our lives….You go to the doctor and they put the needle in her belly and they squeeze the stuff in and you watch. And it comes out dead. I was pretty devastated. In my mind, I’m going, Jesus, what have I done?”
It’s a tough story, a painful story. And parts of it are true.
If you believe Julia Holcomb herself, however, parts of it are not true. Holcomb, who has always held her tongue, has responded to this renewed attention on their relationship by telling her own side of the story. It’s a gut-wrenching but ultimately redemptive story that differs in significant respects from the story Tyler tells. Granted, this is her recollection, and although she seems like a more reliable narrator than Tyler, I cannot say for certain who is telling the truth. But she tells a compelling and convincing story. I hope you read it.
Holcomb was in their apartment when a fire started. She awoke to find herself entrapped. She took refuge in the empty fireplace (remembering Bill Cosby commercials recommending the same), and found a small pocket of air beneath the smoke that was billowing out the open flue. The story picks up:
As I began to fall unconscious, I knew I was about to die. I was frightened and I felt so alone. I believed I deserved to go to hell because of my many sins and I did not feel prepared to die.
Above the fireplace hung a picture of the child Jesus called The Light of the World, by Charles Chambers. The picture had hung in my Grandmothers’ classroom where she taught first grade…I used to look up at that picture every day in school when Grandma would open the class in prayer…[A]t her death I was given the picture as a memory of her. When I told my mother that I was pregnant, she sent the picture to me and I hung it over the fireplace in Steven’s apartment. Now, I was lying beneath it, close to death. I thought of my grandmother, remembering one of the Bible verses she taught me and prayed:
“Into your hands I commend my spirit, thou hast redeemed me Oh Lord God of truth.”
I was thinking of Jesus’ final words on the cross as a means of pleading for mercy. I did not expect to live and yet I felt great peace as I closed my eyes.
Miraculously, Julia survives. The doctors had not expected her to live, or else to survive with severe brain damage from lack of oxygen, yet she was perfectly healthy in mind and body. The doctors also told her that her baby was fine. Tyler, however, strongly encouraged her (in Holcomb’s account) to get an abortion.
I was five-months pregnant. I could not believe he was even asking me to have an abortion at this stage. He spent over an hour pressing me…He said that I was too young to have a baby and it would have brain damage because I had been in the fire and taken drugs…He said I was too far along to wait because it would be illegal for me to get an abortion in another week.
…I said no again. Finally he gave up and said, “Okay, you can go home to your mother’s and have the baby there.” I was worn out and…I began to feel like life was caving in on me. I had no health insurance or money and did not believe Steven intended to help provide for our baby or me. He had not been providing medical care for me…I believed he was abandoning me as my father and my mother had. I began to cry and agreed to have the abortion. Steven was relieved…
[The abortion] was a horrible nightmare I will never forget…My baby had one defender in life; me, and I caved in to pressure. I wish I could go back and be given that chance again, to say no to the abortion one last time. I wish with all my heart I could have watched that baby live his life and grow to be a man.
The doctor did not explain what the procedure would be like. Steven watched when the doctor punctured my uterus with a large needle…When the nurse would leave the room, [Steven] was snorting cocaine on the table beside my bed. He even offered some to me once…Steven watched the baby come out and he told me later that it had been born alive and allowed to die…Steven told me later that it had been a boy and that he now felt terrible guilt and a sense of dread over what he had done…I could not imagine a world where a tiny baby could be born alive and tossed aside as worthless without ever seeing his mother’s face.
That was the end of their relationship. She was withdrawn and traumatized, and he was traumatized, ashamed, and throwing himself headlong into, well, sex and drugs and rock and roll. ”The abortion,” Holcomb writes, “made me feel like part of me died with my baby.” Yet she eventually returns to her mother, converts to Christianity, establishes a healthy family, and enters the Roman Catholic Church. It’s quite the story.
She addresses some ways in which he mischaracterized their story:
To set the record straight: I was never pregnant before I met Steven Tyler, nor did I ever have a previous abortion and Steven knows this to be true. I do not believe I started the fire that burned his apartment, but I am thankful to God for the brave firemen who pulled me out…I came to him with nothing and I left him with nothing, except regrets. Although I presented myself to him in a highly sexualized way, we did not have sex in public places as he wrote in his new book. His continued gross exaggeration of our relationship is puzzling to me. He has talked of me as a sex object without any human dignity…It has been very painful.
Yet her words toward him are gracious and forgiving:
In spite of everything, I do not hate Steven Tyler, nor am I personally bitter. I pray for his sincere conversion of heart and hope he can find God’s grace. I know that I am also responsible for what happened that day. Someone may say that my abortion was justified because of my age, the drugs, and the fire. I do not believe anything can justify taking my baby’s life.
She mentions specific lies and exaggerations in his version of the story, such as his claim that she had been pregnant and had an abortion before. But she doesn’t point to another falsehood: in his version of the story, the baby was dead when it was delivered into the world. But if she’s telling the truth, the baby was alive and he knows it was alive. No wonder he would be tormented by what he caused to happen to his firstborn son.
No wonder, too, that he would lie about it. Assuming that Holcomb is telling the truth (and we must hold this proviso in mind), Steven Tyler was a party to infanticide. Yet Julia’s graciousness — her amazing graciousness — is a true example. Tyler knows that what he did was wrong. He exaggerates their story with rock star bravado, and treats the little girl he was supposed to care for as a sex object. It’s sad.
I have no interest in making Steven Tyler (as though he would read this in the first place) feel more guilty than he already does. Julia Holcomb has forgiven him, and God loves him. But the story is a sobering warning to those who would consider abortion. It’s a sobering warning about how relationships are destroyed, how souls are wounded. It’s also a sobering warning about what goes on behind the scenes, with a baby exposed (Kermit Gosnell-like) and left to die.
But it’s also a tremendous testimony to grace, forgiveness, and redemption.