(Originally printed in the National Review Online)
Seventeen-year-old Scotty McCreery may have won American Idol singing wholesome country tunes, but playing in the background this season was a blues song older than the North Carolinian teen.
Singing the lead vocal of this heart-wrenching ballad was Aerosmith star and Idol judge Steven Tyler. In his new autobiography, Tyler recalls a then-16-year-old girl from his past. He has talked emotionally about the abortion she had: “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?”
This unveiling story became a duet when that girl, now the mother of six other children, married, and a practicing Catholic, told her side of the story, which differs from Tyler’s. She writes: “He has talked of me as a sex object without any human dignity. I have made a point over these long years never to speak of him, yet he has repeatedly humiliated me in print with distortions of our time together. I do not understand why he has done this. It has been very painful.”
All of the details of their testimonies do not match. She says the pregnancy wasn’t entirely unplanned, that Tyler had thrown her birth-control pills away. She says that he pushed her to have the abortion.
Kevin Burke, who wrote a piece for National Review Online highlighting Tyler’s abortion comments, wonders if the soft-porn treatment of his relationship with Holcomb in his autobiography is his “way to avoid the pain and reality of his role in the abortion.”
This much we know: There was an abortion, and there are pain and regrets.
Reflecting on her troubled youth, Holcomb writes: “Our nation’s young girls, especially those like me, who have experienced trauma and abuse, and are vulnerable to exploitation should not be used as sexual playthings, scarred by abortions to free their male partners from financial responsibility, and then like their unborn children, tossed aside as an unwanted object.”
Our nation’s boys, too, should know that abortion doesn’t quite work like a delete button. Sex involves consequences. Even when you’re a rock star on the rise. Abortion doesn’t eradicate them. It ends a life and changes people.
“It took great courage for Julia Holcomb to share her abortion experience and road to recovery from post-abortion stress,” says Jenny Mohler, a social worker and former director of the Northwest crisis-pregnancy center (which includes a maternity home), in Washington, D.C. “Working at the pregnancy center, we see many women, men, and families who suffer in silence expressing many similar symptoms of post-abortion trauma. Countless times I have heard women state through their own words and unique experiences, as Julia recalls, ‘Everyone around me seemed to be moving on with life, but I was carrying a wound that would not go away.’”
For Theresa Bonopartis, director of Lumina/Hope & Healing After Abortion in New York, who had a coerced saline abortion, too, when she was a teenager, the story hit close to home. When she read, “Jesus, what have I done?” she “totally related. No one can ever imagine the horror. It is so hard to even believe what you have just experienced is legal,” she tells me.
“I don’t think people comprehend the hidden trauma of abortion — even those who are suffering from it,” Theresa Burke, who co-founded Rachel’s Vineyard with her husband, Kevin, says. “Furthermore, if they need help, they are scared to death to look at any feelings of remorse. They project their guilt and shame onto everyone who might prick the human blood of conscience.”
Mrs. Burke’s comments gel with many online comments about the Tyler-Holcomb story. And like Holcomb, frequently “men and women who have been touched by abortion long to find a safe place to privately share their story with a sympathetic family member or friend but they often fear their experience will be diminished or exaggerated, that their confidence will be violated, or that they will be judged, keeping them from reaching out for the support they desire and deserve,” Michaelene Fredenburg, author of the upcoming Grief & Abortion: Creating a Safe Place to Heal, observes.
People will argue that there is no such thing as post-abortion stress syndrome, as many have in the wake of Kevin’s piece. But it’s hard to honestly deny there is a lot of hurt out there — including physical and mental pain. Increasingly there are resources online that can help a more anonymous, safe opening up to this reality — websites like Fredenburg’s abortionchangesyou.com and afterabortion.com. It’s rare, of course, that one opens up in a bestselling autobiography or online piece with a byline. But even talking under the protection of confidentiality is painfully difficult.
After 38 years of legal abortion, the next person you run into may very well have been affected by an abortion. She may have wished she had that child she aborted 20 years ago. He may, too.
It’s something to bear in mind when we discuss the topic.
The Burkes, Bonopartis, the Northwest Center, and Fredenburg each represent alternatives to abortion and help to heal those who have experienced or participated in or been otherwise affected by an abortion. And they’re not alone.
“I think the experience of Julia and Tyler reflects on a more spectacular and dramatic stage that has happened in the lives of so many who grew up in the time of drugs, sex, and rock ’n’ roll and may not understand how those sexual activities and abortions impacted their lives,” Kevin Burke observes. “A story like this hopefully brings attention to the losses that need repentance, reconciliation, and healing and provides hope that this is possible.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.