There are a few, rare exceptions that abortion opponents tend to allow to their hard-line rules: rape, incest, life or health of the mother, and “I got my mistress pregnant.”
The most recent culprit in the category of anti-abortion double-think is Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican who on Thursday announced he would resign from his House seat this month. Two days before, Mr. Murphy had voted for a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks on the medically dubious grounds that, at that age, a fetus can experience pain.
“I was proud both to sponsor and vote for this important bill to clearly stand for the dignity and value of all human life, both the born and the unborn,” Mr. Murphy wrote in a statement posted on his office’s Facebook page after the bill passed in the House.
Then The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published texts revealing that when Mr. Murphy’s mistress thought she was pregnant, he urged her to consider an abortion.
Sound familiar? Perhaps Mr. Murphy’s story it calls to mind the Tennessee congressman Scott DesJarlais, who is similarly pro-life in the streets, pro-choice in the sheets.
In 2015, Mr. DesJarlais voted in favor of a 20-week ban, and boasted of a “100 percent pro-life voting record” while in Congress. Meanwhile, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that he supported his ex-wife’s decision to have two abortions (no word on how far along she was) and encouraged a patient with whom he was having an affair to terminate her pregnancy as well. Like Mr. Murphy, he is a co-sponsor of the abortion bill that passed on Tuesday.
Nor are the double standards confined by America’s borders. In Britain, an anti-abortion member of Parliament named Jacob Rees-Mogg did not urge a mistress to end a pregnancy. Yay for him. Mr. Rees-Moggs, however, who opposes abortion even in cases of rape, runs an investment firm that has money in an Indonesian pharmaceutical company that sells abortifacients “widely used in illegal abortions in Indonesia,” according to the British newspaper The Independent.
It’s a child, not a choice, abortion opponents tell us. Unless the pregnancy is embarrassing and super-inconvenient and an impediment to your political future, in which case it’s merely a clump of cells. All life should be cherished and protected, as Mr. DesJarlais’s website insists, unless it’s your girlfriend who’s unexpectedly expecting, in which case you’ve got to cherish and protect your political future instead. Life begins at conception, as Mr. Rees-Moggs said in a debate, unless that life begins inside of a poor brown-skinned woman half a world away, and there’s money to be made from helping her to end it.
It’s almost as if these men don’t really believe that every time sperm and egg combine, the result is a child worthy of being cherished and protected. It’s almost as if these men are fighting to make abortion a crime because they’re more invested in curtailing women’s options and controlling their bodies than they are with saving innocent lives.
The double standards employed by some members of the “do as I say, not as I do” Christian right are nothing new. Show me a senator who votes against gay marriage, and, at least in one infamous case, I’ll show you a guy who’s soliciting same-sex encounters in the airport men’s room. (Hello there, Larry Craig!)
Show me another Republican senator who made his name as a “pro-family advocate” and I’ll show you a guy whose phone number showed up in a Washington madam’s little black book. (Howdy, David Vitter!)
Show me the far-right speaker of the House, a man with perfect scores from the National Right to Life Committee and the Christian Coalition, and I’ll show you a guy who, as a high-school wrestling coach, set up a chair in front of the boys’ shower the better to ogle his protégés, and who was eventually jailed as a serial child molester. (Dennis Hastert, come on down!)
We’ve been down this road of duplicity before. The televangelist who prayed, alongside his wife, for the return of traditional morals, admitted to having sex with — and was accused of rape by — a 21-year-old church secretary, and found to have paid her $279,000. The congressman who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act was sexting with his underage male pages.
Scandals roll by so frequently that there is, by now, an expected script: the shocking revelation, the tearful confession, the up-from-the-ashes reinstatement plea or re-election campaign, garlanded with declarations of “God/my wife/Willie Robertson, star of ‘Duck Dynasty’ has forgiven me, why can’t you?” Perhaps the most shocking part of Mr. Murphy’s story is that he elected to quit, rather than scream “Fake news!” or sit back and wait for a new story to eclipse his hypocrisy, as Mr. DesJarlais did.
But what Mr. Murphy’s moral flexibility ultimately reveals is that, for these particular hard-line anti-abortion politicians, it’s not about fetal pain or the sanctity of life. It’s all about control — whether you’re telling a woman she can’t have an abortion, or forcing a woman to get one.
When Mr. Rees-Moggs was asked how he could oppose abortion as a lawmaker but support it as an investor, he told The Sunday Mirror, “It would be wrong to pretend that I like it, but the world is not always what you want it to be.”
Don’t we women know it.
Jennifer Weiner is the author, most recently, of the memoir “Hungry Heart” and a contributing opinion writer to the NY Times.