Right Wing Co-opts Steven Tyler's "Post-Abortion Trauma"

Do you know why Steven Tyler's life went awry in the 70s and 80s? It wasn't because he was a drug addict or a narcissistic rock star surrounded by adoration. It's because his teenage girlfriend had an abortion in the mid-70s.

That, at least, is the contention by Kevin Burke in an article on the National Review website today. Burke is in the business of "post-abortion syndrome" — he's the co-founder of a non-profit program that does weekend retreats for women who have had abortions and their families.

Right Wing Co-opts Steven Tyler's "Post-Abortion Trauma"

Burke writes of a 1975 story retold in the oral history of Aerosmith, Walk This Way. Steven Tyler, then in his late twenties, convinced the parents of fourteen-year-old Julia Holcomb to sign over their rights to him so they could live together. After she became pregnant, Holcomb had an abortion. According to friend Ray Tabano, quoted by Burke:

"So they had the abortion, and it really messed Steven up because it was a boy. He . . . saw the whole thing and it [messed] him up big time."

Presumably he wouldn't have been so shaken up if it were a girl? In any case, here is Tyler, also quoted by Burke:

"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?"

Burke also quotes Tyler as saying of a later pregnancy with his wife, "I was afraid. I thought we'd give birth to a six-headed cow because of what I'd done with other women. The real-life guilt was very traumatic for me. Still hurts."

Burke calls this "the cry of a post-abortive father whose very intimate exposure to the reality of abortion fits the textbook definition of trauma — as set down by the very same American Psychiatric Association that assures us abortion is a safe procedure with no negative effects on a man's or a woman's mental health." The story then goes on to implicitly and explicitly blame Tyler's alcohol and barbiturate use on Holcomb's abortion, as well as Holcomb becoming suicidal. Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that after leaving her family at age fourteen, Holcomb was abandoned by Tyler for Bebe Buell by a man with whom she'd spent the last three years living —not to mention doing serious drugs.

In other words, Burke wants to use Tyler's experience to argue for the existence of an actual post-abortion traumatic syndrome, despite the fact that no credible scientific study has found a link between abortion and mental health problems. Nor has it been found specifically for teenagers who had abortions.

That doesn't mean that every single person who has an abortion, or whose partner has an abortion, feels the same way about their experience — just like the circumstances around each pregnancy vary. But Burke and his ilk want to take the experience of one man, who surely has many regrets from over the decades, and use it to not only impose a specific set of feelings on women who've made the choice to have abortions and their partners, but to restrict that very choice.

But let's go down Burke's road of assumptions and misplaced concerns for a moment. What is he suggesting as an alternative for Tyler and poor Holcomb? This is how Tyler, a couple of pages from the passages quoted by Burke, describes meeting her (she's given the pseudonym Diana Hall in the book; click to enlarge):

Right Wing Co-opts Steven Tyler's "Post-Abortion Trauma"S

Threesomes with teenage girls he compares to a bucket of chicken: Lovely. Later, Tyler adds, "We carried on for three years, although it seems much longer to me because we were getting real high too." Given that the pregnancy was unplanned, it's reasonable to believe the two were "getting real high" between conception and termination as well.

Burke even mentions how when Buell became pregnant, "she realized it would be impossible to raise a child with him given his out-of-control substance abuse and rock-and-roll lifestyle." She ran back to her boyfriend Todd Rundgren to raise Liv Tyler, she says in the book, because "I couldn't handle it. Because these boys in Aerosmith were out of control." Given how many years of substance abuse Tyler had ahead of him, that appears to have been the right choice for her and her daughter, who only met Tyler years later.

As for Holcomb, it's remarkable that Burke chooses to look at a story of a young, cheated-on teenager dating a drug addict and using drugs herself, and say she would have been better off pregnant and a mother. Not to mention make it almost entirely about the man's pain.

Post Abortion Trauma [NRO]
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