Jessica Valenti’s Very Human Response to Her Abortion

The hip feminista Jessica Valenti has written a lot about children and abortion but never more personally than her “Sunday Sauce, Saving Me” blog post for The Toast in which she admits that she herself had an abortion.

Prior to her abortion admission published on October 22, Valenti was nothing if not an ardent and excited pro-choice warrior. No restrictions on abortion or contraception are allowed and she often critiqued the notion that becoming a parent is somehow a value or even desired.

In 2009, in The Atlantic she wrote in support of her book, Why Have Kids?, about why not wanting kids is entirely normal. “If there were no consequences, how many of us would give up our kids?” Valenti provocatively inquired.

She has argued that feminists should proclaim loudly and without apology that abortions be free on demand. “‘Free abortions on demand without apology’ is a call for equal access to a constitutional right. More importantly, it’s a promise that feminists won’t ignore the needs of all women in favor of tailoring messages to the mainstream. Because being pro-choice means doing what’s right, not what’s popular,” Valenti wrote at The Nation in August.

She’s written for the Washington Post about why “personhood” amendments are a terrible idea. “The people who attack reproductive rights are turning a blind eye to the impossible choices families have to make together, instead callously insisting that it’s lawmakers who know what’s best for women, not women themselves.” Her own callous insistence that public monies should fund abortion-on-demand ignores the fact that many people find abortion morally wrong and don’t want “lawmakers” to spend their taxes on something they believe is against God’s law.

Valenti was happy about the defacement of an “abortion changes you” ad declaring she “loved” the “pro-choice hero” who’d covered over a poster intimating that there are emotional consequences for the woman who decides to end a pregnancy with a printed sign about fulfilling dreams because the abortion meant “now I can go to college.”

Come October her tone and rhetoric were very, very different, though. She wrote then about her memories of Sunday dinner with her family, about how her parents – though no longer practicing Catholics – still maintained traditions about taking time out on Sundays to rest, eat, listen and dance to music, turn off the TV and just be together. Valenti then explains how she had become especially concerned about passing on traditions to her daughter because due to the trouble she had with that pregnancy she was sure she wouldn’t have any more children.

“Then I got pregnant,” Valenti admits. “Sometimes plans and being responsible don’t work out the way you thought they would. I always thought women collapsing at bad news seemed a bit overwrought, but there I was on the bathroom floor. I cried because I was terrified…but mostly I cried because I want so badly for [daughter] Layla to be able to dance with someone to Buddy Holly on Sundays,” Valenti writes as if moaning.

And then Valenti admits that she ended the pregnancy. “Today, with a toddler who puts on ballet shows for her dolls and scoops ricotta onto layers of dough, I know that I don’t hate myself enough to die. And I love her enough not to. But it’s not enough to just accept this reality.

“So I bake. And I roll dough. And I make Sunday sauce to tell Layla–I love you. This is enough.” 

Reading Valenti’s abortion confession is difficult because though I’ve never agreed with her, I feel deep sorrow for any woman who wants a child and can’t have one. And clearly Valenti, even after questioning whether children are desirable seems to be saying that they are and that she wishes she could have more.

Two further observations about this abortion warrior who has now joined its ranks:

Valenti never actually writes the word abortion in her post. After writing that word (so often) in regards to other people she seems to be incapable of “saying” it out loud about herself. This doesn’t make her a coward, it makes her human and it leads to the second point that was always missing from her previous commentary about the issue, the despair.

No one who undergoes an abortion can deny to themselves that they have killed a potential living thing, that they’ve ended a life. (Of the women I know who’ve had abortions, each believes they had to do it and each also understands and feels pain about having killed a potential baby.) And that knowledge causes deep, primal despair. This is not to say that public policy around abortion should be driven by that despair. But while Valenti had no trouble in the past portraying pro-lifers as scary because of what she saw as their anti-woman zealotry, she has never been able to acknowledge of her own fellow pro-choicers  (of herself) that they deny the pain and suffering that comes with aborting a potential life – whether justified or not. She has never been able to admit that ending a life could feel so wrong.

No one gets off without some scarring – regardless of whether the abortion is “necessary” in the eyes of the woman.

Peace be upon Jessica Valenti because she’s obviously in pain about what happened to her and her family. Maybe she’s learned some greater sensitivity toward those who want to protect and prevent others from experiencing her despair.

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  • AJ

    “No one who undergoes an abortion can deny to themselves that they have killed a potential living thing, that they’ve ended a life.”

    Not true. I know two women who have had multiple abortions (one 2, the other 3) and neither feels the slightest remorse. That’s what makes abortion advocates so scary: not that they do what they do in spite of knowing that it’s wrong, but that they DON’T know/believe that it’s wrong.

  • Mary

    I am assuming that pro-life advocates are the ones that want to “protect and prevent others from experiencing her despair.” That is simply not true- as a whole, the pro-life movement has never and will never be about protecting women. How could it be, when so many pro-lifers continue to shame and harass women? Here’s a personal anecdote for you: five years ago, I was walking into a clinic when a pro-life protester tried to hand me a bible and spritz me with holy water. When I ignored him, he told me I was going to Hell. It was this exchange that haunted me- not the abortion, but the complete cruelty I faced at the hands of pro-lifers. Call a spade a spade. Many (I’d even say the majority) of these people feel no compassion for abortion seeking women.

    I had an abortion when I was seventeen. I was six months away from graduating high school when I fell pregnant. Was the decision difficult? Of course, and I struggled for a brief time before and after the procedure. But I never felt the “primal sense of despair” you reference. You’re mischaracterizing millions of women when you state that. “No on gets off without scarring”- on the contrary, I am happy, healthy, and 100% at peace with my decision. I know many women like myself.

    This was an interesting piece. Thank you for writing.

    • Krys

      I don’t understand how abortion is or ever will be okay. You are killing a human life – namely your own child. It doesn’t matter if it feels pain, or how old it is, it is still a living being that you denied the continuation of life to. In one sense you are right – Pro life is not as much about protecting the mother(and father) as it is about protecting innocent lives. That doesn’t mean that women (and men of course) are now profoundly affected by abortions, sometimes in ways that they will never ever know, because they denied themselves the experience of meeting their own children, perhaps the greatest people they could ever know or love. I believe if you ever met your child even for a minute, you would feel the “profound sense of despair” that they are talking about, and not feeling it comes from not knowing any better.

      I do not wish to condemn you, but I feel “profoundly” sorry for you and others like you. And I can tell you why: when I was 19, not much older than you were when you had your abortion, I got pregnant with my son. There was never a moment I considered “getting rid” of him no matter how hard things might get. And when I was 22 and his father left us, there was never a single time that I wondered if I should give him up – it was always and will always be, “what can I do to make our situation better?” Admittedly it was tough for a couple years but now he is eight and the light of my life. He is one of the smartest, friendliest, and funniest people I believe that I will ever have the pleasure of meeting.
      To not have him in my life would be one of the greatest tragedies I could imagine – but of course, I would not know that if I had never met him.

      And now I am happily married again and pregnant with my second child. I can feel him/her kick, and I’ve seen him/her on the ultrasound and can hear his/her heartbeat – to deny that she/he is a person would be beyond my comprehension, and how anyone could do so seems so selfish, barbaric, and cowardly to me. I am not against birth control but once conception happens its time to own up to your responsibility – even if that means adoption, it is blessing people who cannot have children and the child that deserves to live and love like the rest of us.

      • Krys

        P.S – I do feel sorry for the way you were treated by that man with the holy water. He has no right to judge you – if he were really a Christian man he would have had compassion on you, and tried to find a way to help you. As it is, he sounds like a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I would not trust him either. I am sorry you had to make that decision so young and go through with the whole ordeal. Many pro-lifers really do care about women, but I think people get so worked up about the thought of women killing babies that they don’t see the person beneath the decision.

    • anion

      Here’s a personal anecdote for you, Mary:

      I had an abortion at the age of twenty-three. I had always been staunchly pro-choice, convinced that a fetus was just a bundle of cells, that people who were “anti-choice” didn’t care about babies but just hated women, that anyone who claimed abortion was bad for women or hurtful to them was just a propaganda-spewing liar. So when I discovered I was pregnant (broken condom), I scheduled the procedure without even giving it any serious thought. Of course I would have an abortion, what was the big deal, right?

      That was my failing. It was my fault, absolutely. But I wouldn’t have made that decision so flippantly if I hadn’t been since my early teen years faced with an overwhelming cultural message of “women who have abortions just feel relieved,” and “anyone who says women experience regret after abortions are just trying to shame them and keep them barefoot and pregnant.”

      So I had the abortion. I sailed through it, physically. I was fine for a couple of days. And then it hit me that no, it had not been just a clump of cells. It was a potential life. It was something that would have been a baby–my baby, with my then-boyfriend (now husband of fourteen years). I cried a lot. I wanted to take it back. I wanted to invent time travel to stop myself from doing it.

      I started re-thinking the whole thing. I started looking around and seeing how unmarried women who become pregnant are encouraged to get abortions, and how if they decide not to they’re shamed for it. How they’re treated and looked at as though they’re trying to “trap” the men who helped create those babies. How those men are basically given a pass when it comes to taking responsibility; they get off scot-free, basically. They don’t even have to have the actual procedure. If the girl in question carries the pregnancy to term and raises the child, everyone sympathizes with the men because some girl ruined their lives or “forced” them to become fathers. How the difficulties of single mothers are seen as their own fault, because they had a choice and they made the one that forces other people to help them. So selfish! How no one judges those men for refusing to marry the women they impregnated or even stick around through the pregnancy and take an equal share of the parenting responsibility.

      And then I started looking for places with other women who’d been through it, too, and maybe felt what I felt. The only places I found that offered any non-judgmental support and understanding were religious groups (like the Catholic church’s Project Rachel). In fact, my few attempts to talk to women in pro-choice groups were met with either stony indifference or outright hostility.

      A year or so ago the popular online advice column to which I was a regular commenter had a question about abortion; the writer of the letter had one or two children already and was suddenly pregnant and unsure if she wanted to keep the baby, and was asking for help. The columnist basically said it was up to her and her husband. The comments were all about how important choice was.

      So I told my story. I said that it was hard to deal with when I’d done it, and that after the births of my children I couldn’t imagine ever doing it again. I mentioned my terror after my first was born that she would somehow be taken from me as punishment. I mentioned how difficult it still is sometimes to look at my two kids and know there should be another child there. I said that having had children I really thought this particular letter-writer should think long and hard, and then think some more, and really consider how she would feel having taken that final step to end the pregnancy. I said that if she still felt she couldn’t carry on with the pregnancy, then fine, but at least she wouldn’t find herself the way I’d found myself, suddenly realizing that it wasn’t the easy-as-pie, regret-free lark it’s always portrayed as. I said all of those things because they’re what I honestly feel and believe, and because I wish someone had said something to me to spare me the pain I went through–the pain I will always feel.

      I was viciously attacked in those comments. I was called a liar and a troll, a tool for the Religious Right. I was blamed for my own regret and told that just because I didn’t think it over first didn’t mean every other woman didn’t–my point that it is extremely hard to find, in any mainstream media or online source, even one story of a woman feeling regret after an abortion and that we are swamped with “it’s easy, you’ll just be relieved” messages, was completely ignored. Several other women informed me that everyone THEY knew felt only relief and I ought to look at who actually made me feel that way, as if Rush Limbaugh had sneaked into my bedroom in the middle of the night and waved some sort of Regret Wand over my head to implant feelings of sadness and shame into me, rather than those being legitimate feelings. For the crime of sharing my experience and advice with a woman who had written to an advice columnist asking for help and advice, and hoping to help her make her decision by doing so, I was shouted at, called names, told to shut up, told the letter writer didn’t need my negative crap, and told that I probably just wanted women to live in Quiverfull cults and keep their mouths shut. They told me, just as you said above, that most women don’t feel that way, thus basically saying something was wrong with me personally, that I wasn’t normal, that I was clearly just some sort of freak.

      So don’t give me that “pro-lifers never want to help women” garbage. It’s shameful what happened to you, yes. It shouldn’t have been allowed to happen. But you know, I was bombarded with people telling me that abortion was no big deal my whole life, and that’s pretty shameful too, IMO. If even one person had ever sat down with me and told me that actually, some women do regret it, and actually, some people do oppose it because they think it harms women culturally and personally, I might have thought a little harder on that October 2nd when I made the appointment.

      I’m glad you only “struggled briefly,” and that you now don’t even think about it. I’m also glad that you believe that’s perfectly normal and that when or if you do have children you won’t think or feel any differently. I’m glad you’ve never turned to other women for support in your feelings and had them call you names and tell you something is wrong with you. I’m glad you’re confident that you were not scarred in any way by the experience and that no scars will ever show up for you.

      But that’s you. You’re wrong to say that anyone who opposes abortion has no sympathy or feels nothing for women. I believe abortion should be legal but I also believe that treating it like an easy no-consequences fix is extremely damaging to women in many ways, and I’d like to see more real discussion about it. Abortion hurt me. I don’t think women should be encouraged to have them and I don’t think men should be encouraged to think of them as an easy way out of consequences for sleeping around with any woman they like.

      So how’s that for an anecdote.

  • noif

    This reminds me of a recent episode of The Moth:

    http://themoth.org/posts/storytellers/rebecca-nesson

    Shameless plug, I know. And I’m not a huge fan of the whole talk-radio subculture. Especially public radio. But it’s a great little podcast. Its emphasis is on personal experiences, not over-broad policy advocacy.

    • Wow, Rebecca–just listened and I must say I was really rooting for you and your baby and your marriage! I’m so happy for how your story ended–not just for the happy outcome, but for your heart being softened and healed. So sweet.

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  • Sheila Warner

    I wonder if those who are so condemning of Ms Valenti followed the link she included in her post, the one that describes what happened to her during her pregnancy with her daughter Layla. A subsequent pregnancy put her life at risk. In this country, self-defense is a valid reason to take another life. What good would it have done Layla if her mother died from another dangerous pregnancy? She made her choice based on what was best for her and her daughter. In my childhood, such abortions were considered “therapeutic” abortions. Can we in the pro-life community ever take the time to listen to the stories of desperate women? It seems not.

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  • RileyDeWiley

    JV is such a chundering nitwit I am astonished that anyone, anywhere looks to her as a paragon of anything except chundering nitwittitude.

  • Kronk

    “Let us be clear, the removal of fathers from the lives of their children is … public … policy“. -Robert Franklin ICMI-14 https://youtu.be/PlkGeu3OO8U

    “Men’s rights activists must wake up and realize that the time for trying to counter the hypocrisy with rationality – with essentially male arguments, using facts and truth, in the hope that sense will prevail – is not going to make any difference to the relentless feminist long march on men” -Herbert Purdy ICMI-16 https://youtu.be/PjAnRar9p4M

    “Everywhere you look—everywhere you look!–there are feminists pushing their way to the front of the line demanding women’s “fair share” of all of the goodies, the good stuff, the loot, the booty, the cookies. Even if women don’t need it. Even if women don’t deserve it. And even if somebody else needs it and deserves it more.
    And they get it, because we give it to them”. -Karen Straughn (GirlWritesWhat)

    Ignore your rights and they will go away.

    “The power to govern is a magnet for the predator class. That is why it is common for governments to evolve into crime syndicates. It is the nature of governments to expand their power. Since power leads to corruption, governments eventually become crime syndicates.” -G. Edward Griffen

    “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
    -Albert Einstein

    “To sin by silence when one should protest makes cowards of men” -Abraham Lincoln

    There are many persons ready to do what is right because in their hearts they know it is right. But they hesitate, waiting for the other fellow to make the make the first move – and he, in turn, waits for you. -Marian Anderson

    For many years now, we’ve known two important things about “deadbeat dads.” First, they’re not deadbeats and second, they’re not always dads. -Robert Franklin

    “Mens rights are human rights. If that sounds radical, you might ask yourself why you don’t consider men human”? -Hannah Wallen

    Red Pill knowledge is like discovering bits and pieces of the puzzle that need to be placed together to make sense – and the rabbit-hole is so deep that every time you may think that you reached the bottom, it goes further down. -Bluntruth
    “Let’s be clear; child support and alimony laws aren’t about caring for children. They’re about transferring as much money as possible from men to women.” -Robert Franklin Esq.

    “Child support is not meant for children. It’s a COMMUNIST transfer of wealth scheme.”
    Paul M. Clements DADD

    “The federal incentives drive the system. The more divorces, and the higher the child-support guidelines are set and enforced (no matter how unreasonable), the more money the state bureaucracy collects from the feds. Follow the money. The less time that non-custodial fathers are permitted to be with their children, the more child support they must pay into the state fund, and the higher the federal bonus to the states for collecting the money.” – Phyllis Schlafly