It's standard journalistic practice to put the most important information at the very beginning of an article. For ABC News, it appeared the most pertinent facts about Irene Vilar, a woman who had 15 abortions in 16 years, were her fears about how pro-life activists would receive her new book, "Impossible Motherhood."
ABC reporter Susan Donaldson James perpetuated the myth of raging pro-life activists in her September 21 article about Vilar. Her lede read, "Irene Vilar worries that her self-described ‘abortion addiction' will be misunderstood, twisted by the pro-life movement to deny women the right to choose." Vilar, now a mother of two, told ABC, "no book like this has ever been written. I just imagine the ‘baby killer' and I could be a poster child for that kind of fundamentalism. And there are my little kids in all of that."
Vilar told Donaldson James, "she has already sensed ‘an inkling of hatred," a point noted in the third paragraph. By the fourth, Donaldson James had described the precautions taken by Vilar and her husband.
According to ABC, "Vilar has scheduled only closed-door interviews and will not do a book tour. At the urging of her husband, they have made sure all public property records do not reflect her name, so she cannot be targeted at their home."
Throughout the article Vilar blamed society for her decision to abort 15 pregnancies. "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. I should be thinking about a profession and not mothering. Everyone is having babies, and yet they don't want to care for them."
Donaldson James did report that Vilar's mother committed suicide when she was 8, that two of her brothers are heroin addicts and her grandmother was Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebron, who served 25-year prison sentence for attacking the United States Capitol building in 1954. Yet, aside from a brief mention of the government-forced sterilization Vilar's mother endured and a brief mention of Vilar's much older, "tyrannical" first husband who told her "having children killed sexual desire," Donaldson failed to explore the role Vilar's familial history played in her decisions.
And naturally, no article about abortion can past editorial muster without having a medical expert proclaim abortion overall a safe procedure. Dr. Louis Weinsten, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia noted that multiple abortions can cause complications in later pregnancies. He ultimately concluded, "Medically, in the proper hands, it's a very safe procedure and doesn't have much impact on future pregnancies until you get to four or more. But in the long run, most do fine."
Furthermore, this article gave ABC another chance to promote birth control as the ultimate solution to abortion. Vilar's story, wrote Donaldson James, "is a reminder that more needs to be done to educate women about the proper use of birth control and providing better access, according to Dr. Lauren Streicher, clinical assistant professor at the Northwestern University School of Medicine."
But lack of birth control was not the problem for Vilar. Her pregnancies "became completely self-destructive." Donaldson James noted, "After her 9th and 10th abortions, she ‘needed another self-injury to get high.'"
"In the beginning I was taking pills and I'd skip a day or two or give up one month. I'd think I'll be better next time," Vilar explained. "But slowly, my days took on a balancing act and there was a specific high. I would get my period and be sad, then discover I was pregnant, being afraid, yet also so excited."
Streicher told ABC that Vilar's "book really isn't about using abortion as birth control. She is unconsciously sabotaging contraception for self-mutilation. It's a way of escaping feeling empty."
Streicher also noted, "By her own admission, she is a psychologically disturbed woman."
Vilar clearly understood the mechanics of pregnancy and birth control. Yet all of the education about it, all the access she had to it couldn't keep her from having those 15 abortions.