Irene Vilar, author of the new book Impossible Motherhood, says she had 15 abortions in 16 years, many as a form of "self-injury." So is she a pro-choicer's nightmare?

The ABC News story by Susan Donaldson James is a little frustrating. We find out that Vilar (in the video above, reading from an earlier book) has a troubled family history — she was born in Puerto Rico, where by 1974, 37% of women of childbearing age had been sterilized in an American-led experiment. Her mother had a hysterectomy with no hormone treatment at age 33, which led to depression, addiction, and eventually suicide. Two of her brothers were heroin addicts. As a teenage college student, she met her future husband, a 50-year-old professor who believed "having children killed sexual desire." Their marriage was troubled, and she engaged in self-mutilation and attempted suicide — but here's where things get confusing. James writes,

Vilar's pregnancies became compulsively self-destructive: After her 9th and 10th abortions, she "needed another self-injury to get the high."

"In the beginning I was taking pills and I'd skip a day or two or give up one month," she said. "I'd think I'll be better next time. 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."

Vilar's description of what happened "after her 9th and 10th abortions" is disturbing, but what happened before then — how did she get to nine? Did the cycle of self-destruction actually began much earlier, was her husband uncooperative about birth control, did they decide to try for children and then back off? And, given that Vilar is obviously an extreme case, do these questions matter at all to the larger abortion debate?

Both James and Vilar are trying to make them matter. In the place where she might have explained to us what was going on between abortions one and nine, James instead gives us statistics about women who have multiple abortions. 10% of women who have one procedure, she says, will have three or more. She writes that "little is known about these women" but that for them, some research "might indicate mental problems." She also quotes Vilar, who says that women who have multiple abortions exhibit "recklessness."

But was Vilar really "reckless," any more than someone who self-harms by cutting is "clumsy?" Her 15 abortions seem like the product of depression and a bad relationship, not a cavalier use birth control — her contraceptive lapses became, as she says, intentional. That said, "little is known" about Vilar, because James doesn't give us her full history. She's too concerned — and, to be fair, Vilar is on board as well — with painting her as a type of "woman who has multiple abortions."

At first glance, Vilar seems like the perfect example for pro-lifers who think abortion rights encourage women to throw caution to the winds. But really, she's an example of how people who are desperate and depressed can do strange and disturbing things. Given that she saw abortion as a form of self-mutilation, it seems likely that she would have gotten dangerous back-alley procedures if she had to. And if for whatever reason abortion hadn't been available at all, she might well have turned to another method of "self-destruction."

Vilar says,

Women have a deep need for agency, for purpose and direction and society is not providing natural and healthy channels for creative action.

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.

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?

I'm not sure that "many of the repeat abortions" can be explained in this way — or in any one way. But it would be interesting to see how a conflicted culture of motherhood influenced Vilar's particular form of "addiction" (a word she uses). Unfortunately, we don't really get that story.

Abortion Addict Confesses 15 Procedures In 16 Years [ABC]
Irene Vilar [Official Site]