The year of the celebrity abortion memoir

It is the year of abortion memoirs.  

In her autobiography Paris, published earlier this year, the first “famous for being famous” celebrity Paris Hilton revealed that when she was 22 years old, she had an abortion. Hilton was – and is – a scion of one of the wealthiest families in the world. When she was 22, she was already on the trajectory to a life of fame: 

In November 2003, after we had filmed the first season of The Simple Life and before it premiered, I was living my best life. The show started getting tons of great press. My co-star Nicole Richie and I were working it, showing up, doing interviews. I was out clubbing almost every night, posing for the paparazzi, talking to everyone about this crazy, wonderful show about to come out, promising everyone that they’d be blown away. I shuttled between New York and L.A., working the red carpet at premieres and award shows, and wherever I went, the growing army of paparazzi followed. I was having a wild-child moment, and it was sort of glorious. It all came crashing down when I realized I was pregnant at 22. 

Hilton was certain she wasn’t ready. Her boyfriend at the time, unsurprisingly, was supportive of this view. And so the baby died: 

Choosing to have an abortion can be an intensely private agony that’s impossible to explain. The only reason I’m talking about it now is that so many women are facing it, and they feel so alone and judged and abandoned. I want them to know that they’re not alone, and they don’t owe anyone an explanation. When there is no right way—all that’s left is what is. What you know you have to do. And you do it, even though it breaks your heart. 

Now, writes Hilton, she “looked back on all this with sorrow, even though I know I made the right choice.” She’s had “thoughts like, What if I killed my Paris?” But still, she’s certain that “I was in no way capable of being a mother” and that “denying that would have jeopardized the forever family I hoped to have in the future, at a time when I was healthy and healed.” Years later, Hilton would purchase that family via rounds of IVF and the rented womb of a surrogate, and tens of thousands of dollars later, received her son Phoenix Barron Hilton Reum. She does not say how many of his siblings died during the process. 

Actress Kerry Washington also released an autobiography this year, titled Thicker Than Water: A Memoir. She, too, had an abortion. Like Hilton, she uses her personal experience to advocate for feticide in general, writing that she never imagined that she would be in an abortion clinic, “surrendering my insides to a surgical vacuum.” It is her baby who was surrendered to that vacuum, but the brief lives of aborted children are ghosts who lurk on the margins of memoirs, their deaths merely teaching moments for the main character. Washington had the abortion in her late 20s, after she was already a famous actress. (Not incidentally, she is famous for a scene in which her character on Scandal has an abortion to the tune of “Silent Night.”) 

Comedian Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live published Leslie F***ing Jones: A Memoir in September. She is proudly childless, and has launched many viral tirades against pro-life legislators, one while wearing a shirt with an arrow pointing down and the word “Mine” across the front. Jones writes that she had three abortions between the ages of 18 and 27, and that she was using it as birth control (she now admits this was a bad idea). This taught her nothing about the tragedy of abortion – only that it was, to her mind, necessary. Without aborting those three babies, perhaps she never would have become a TV comedian making angry jokes about laws protecting pre-born babies from abortion. The trade-off, she makes clear, was worth it to her. 

And finally, in The Woman in Me Britney Spears famously described the brutal abortion she underwent at the behest of her then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake, who desperately did not want to be a father. Spears wanted to keep the child but caved under pressure, and lay sobbing on the bathroom floor as she bled her baby after taking abortion pills because the famous couple were afraid to go to a hospital or clinic for fear of being recognized. Despite being worth tens of millions of dollars, they, too, were “not ready” to have children. The woman in Spears wanted to keep the baby; the baby in her died because Timberlake refused to be a father. 

Celebrities are telling their abortion stories to normalize a “procedure” that is the focal point of fierce political fights across post-Roe America. But their stories are actually revealing in a different way. In almost every instance, money was not an issue. The parents were financially secure, even wealthy. Each of these children died because the parents insisted that they were “not ready” in some way despite being financially well-off adults. Each engaged in the baby-making act while not wanting babies; each had succumbed so thoroughly to the contraceptive mindset that the children which naturally arrived after acts of reproduction were treated as an unwelcome shock, as if it were somehow unnatural that sex frequently results in babies.  

And inadvertently, each of these abortion memoirs tell us something profound about our culture – not that abortion is normal, but why: Because we are so broken that we have forgotten basic facts about what it means to be mothers, fathers – and human beings. Thus, the famous and powerful leverage their star power and wealth against the most nameless vulnerable, and “abortion memoirs” have become the hot new trend.

2 thoughts on “The year of the celebrity abortion memoir

  1. Dan Martin says:

    ‘Timberlake refused to be a father’
    Too late. He is a father (of a dead child). Britney is a mother (of a dead child). God help them both.

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