When a woman writes a book in which she claims she had 15 abortions in 15 years, it’s amazing that The Washington Post can write a sympathetic account of her barrage of life-ending "choices" and save the moral judgment for pro-lifers. But that’s exactly what reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia did in Friday’s Post. In paragraph 44 of their profile of "abortion addict" Irene Vilar, the pro-life movement finally gets to speak – as a hateful cartoon.
Lately, he [her husband] has tried to shield her from "violent, hateful and utterly un-Christian comments" on blogs, he says. On the Internet, she has been called a "monster," "scuzzy," a "skank." A poster at USbacklash.org wrote that she is "one of the sickest people who ever lived, including Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, or any other murderer I can think of! Too bad one of her suicide attempts didn't take. . . . We hope she keeps trying!"
The pro-life movement is full of thoughtful experts, and this is the best the Post can do?
It doesn’t reflect a reporter trying to balance a story thoughtfully. It reeks of Googling for the nastiest item – or worse, abjectly accepting the example from the story’s subject. Two paragraphs later, there’s more talk of violent, hateful pro-lifers:
Vilar will return to Colorado warily. She has removed her name from as many public records as possible, saying she is "worried about the kind of people who killed the doctor a few months ago," a reference to the May slaying of George Tiller, who performed abortions in Kansas. "You know -- the people who would call me a 'baby killer.' "
If they are the chroniclers of hard facts, what would the journalists at the Post call the beings that were killed by Vilar? Being "pro-choice" apparently means choosing euphemisms and avoidance.
The story’s subject gets all the sympathy: "She talks in long, complex observations." Her book is "precariously nuanced, intellectual ambitious, and unnervingly frank." But her critics are hateful, inarticulate villains. Note how the Post shows their willingness to rise above the "judgmental" by putting words in quotes:
In the book, Vilar writes about a "shameful" period in her life -- before she became a mother -- when she says she underwent 15 abortions in 15 years.
They are judgmental about her critics: she is a "sudden target of blogospheric vitriol and disapproval." Late in the story, when Vilar finds a mate who actually wants children – she had a long affair with a professor 34 years her senior who demanded she remain childless – suddenly, some judgment creeps in.
Her addiction is at its most twisted and perverse: The man actually wants a child; he calls her "selfish and insensitive." She has "maternal desires," but she can't break out of the pathological quest for a high that comes with starting and ending pregnancies.
Even if the Post allows that this was a "pathology," it doesn’t really want readers to think there was something "pro-choice" in all these abortions. They buy into the language of addiction:
During a trip to Puerto Rico, she has a moment of clarity, concluding that she is addicted to the cycle of pregnancy and abortion in the same way that two of her brothers are addicted to heroin and her mother was addicted to Valium. Sometimes she feels a "high" before becoming pregnant, "waiting for a missed period, my body basking in the promise of being in control." Sometimes the high comes during pregnancy -- she often would place baby clothes on layaway -- and other times when she leaves the abortion clinic, "feeling that once again, I had succeeded in a narrow escape."
Vilar really has no choice, but to abort, repeatedly:
Robin Morgan, a feminist author who wrote the foreword to Vilar's book, says "consensuality is impossible in that situation because of the power imbalance."
Vilar even gets to make her case with music:
She's unabashedly supportive of abortion rights, but says her addiction to the cycle of pregnancy and abortion meant that she wasn't really choosing to end her pregnancies. "In a pathology, you don't have choice," she says. "I come from a culture that cultivates mixed messages," she says, quiet for a moment on the couch in Alexandria. Then she softly starts to sing.
"Te amo muchisimo/Por tu bien te digo, 'Adiós.' " -- I love you very much. For your own good, I say goodbye.
"You see?" she says. "Mixed messages, even in our songs."
Roig-Franzia even extends the Post's sympathy to Vilar's grandmother, who is what the Post calls an "icon" for shooting at Congressmen:
Lolita Lebron, who will turn 90 next month, is not only Vilar's larger-than-life grandmother but also an icon of nationalist pride in Puerto Rico. In an act that would be hard for any grandchild to reconcile, Lebron and two colleagues shot and wounded five congressmen during a quixotic attack inside the U.S. House chamber in 1954.
The Post claims this whole project is "less ideological than personal," but then we're told "Vilar says she is donating one-fourth of her royalties to Sisterhood Is Global Institute, an international women's rights organization that counts Jane Fonda among its board members."