After Tim Murphy, The Pro-Life Movement Must Demonstrate Fidelity To Its Core Beliefs

After Tim Murphy, The Pro-Life Movement Must Demonstrate Fidelity To Its Core Beliefs

The pro-life cause can appeal to Americans—but only if we stand up for life 100 cases out of 100, and not just when it’s personally convenient.
Gracy Olmstead
By

Rep. Tim Murphy announced yesterday that he is stepping down from office, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette revealed earlier this week that the GOP lawmaker had encouraged his girlfriend to get an abortion.

“This afternoon I received a letter of resignation from Congressman Tim Murphy, effective October 21,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said yesterday in a statement. “It was Dr. Murphy’s decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it.”

Murphy has long called himself pro-life and aligned himself with the pro-life movement, helping write Congress’s H.R. 36, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The House passed a 20-week abortion ban on Tuesday, one that (excepting for in cases of incest, rape, or life-threatening health conditions) “makes it a crime—punished with a fine or prison, or both—to attempt or perform an abortion when the fetus is believed to be 20 weeks or older.”

According to the Post-Gazette, Murphy was discussing a pregnancy scare with his girlfriend when she took issue with his pro-life politics, noting that he “had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week.” Murphy replied, “I get what you say about my March for life messages. I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more. I will.”

In The Eyes Of Many, Murphy Taints The Pro-Life Cause

The blatant hypocritical divide between Murphy’s private actions and public positions has struck voters acutely. Is this what the pro-life movement stands for: public principles married to private duplicity? How can lawmakers demand of voters the same fidelity to life, commitment to hard choices, and determination to sacrifice that they themselves want to avoid?

Many folks on Twitter made these exact complaints:

Some pro-life advocates have been reluctant to unequivocally condemn Murphy’s actions. Mary Lou Gardner called Murphy an “honorable” person, and said she is “not ready to cast a stone at him.”

Gardner quotes John 8 here, in which Jesus suggests the Pharisees shouldn’t condemn a woman for her adultery, since they themselves are not guiltless. But it makes no sense for Gardner or other pro-lifers to defend or ignore Murphy’s abortion-encouraging messages, if they do indeed believe that life is sacred—and if they believe that by advocating that his girlfriend have an abortion, Murphy was in fact advocating for the murder of a child.

This isn’t to negate the importance of forgiveness and acknowledging our own shortcomings. But if pro-lifers don’t condemn Murphy’s hypocrisy on abortion, we suggest that we don’t truly believe our own words. We don’t believe that every life counts.

Our Conceptions of Dignity Make Abortion More Likely

Some late-term abortions (after 22 weeks) affected by H.R. 36 stem from an unborn baby having painful and life-changing medical conditions. These stories should of course be acknowledged with great sympathy and respect—with an understanding that the mothers going through these situations do not want to abort their babies, but often feel they have no other choices. How are they to raise a child whose severe deformities or physical ailments could make their life a curse?

Here, I think the pro-life movement should show deeper sympathy. Black and white choices often break down into frighteningly complicated moral situations, especially in a county that has such fraught and conflicting understandings of life, rights, and purpose.

In America today, we have conflicting conceptions of “human dignity.” Many on the Left believe “women’s rights” are a human dignity issue, but they do not put “the rights of the unborn” under the same category. That’s because the word “dignity” turns upon issues such as choice, equality (of opportunity and treatment), justice, and tolerance—not upon the very nature of being.

An older, more classical conception of human dignity reaches beyond the circumstantial, and speaks to the very core of our imago dei, our nature as humans. It is founded upon the idea that human life is sacred, that we are all made in the image of God. This belief means that no matter the circumstances of a person’s life—be they mentally or physically disabled, or perfectly healthy—that person is precious and immeasurably valuable. This conception of human dignity is the greatest of all equalizers: no matter the place or culture, the poverty or vulnerability, each life matters. This is why, under this conception of human dignity, the unborn child cannot be left out.

But to the average non-Christian American, who believes the chief end of life is the individual’s comfort and pleasure, it’s difficult to make such an argument. Thus, we in the pro-life movement often argue for the hidden joys and fulfillments within painful choices, encouraging people with the stories of mothers have chosen life despite the physical dangers involved, and have been blessed by it—even if only for a short while.

Pro-Lifers Must Demonstrate Fidelity to Their Cause

But with Murphy, we confront a very different situation. We confront a suggested abortion of convenience—convenience especially, in this case, to the man involved. That is something the pro-life movement cannot be merely sympathetic with. By advocating for abortion, Murphy was acknowledging that it would have presented an easy way out—a way to avoid the moral and public ramifications of his private actions. But abortion and its ramifications would not have been as easy, clear-cut, or consequence-free for his girlfriend or their potential baby.

Pro-life politicians and advocates who called for Murphy to step down from office sent a clear message: they believe that a life is a life, no matter how small. That is a message those who oppose abortion must remain consistent on, if they are to be morally consistent and non-repugnant to the wider public.

The truth is, even though Planned Parenthood calls itself pro-woman, a large percentage of women believe in limiting, if not outlawing, abortion. According to a Quinnipac poll in January, 4 in 10 said they would support a 20-week abortion ban in their state. When the House passed a very similar ban in 2013, the following year, Quinnipac reported that six in 10 women supported the ban. And “according to a recent Marist Poll commissioned,” notes the Washington Post, “nearly half — 49 percent — of Democrats want abortion banned after 20 weeks.”

Views of Planned Parenthood have dimmed over the past few decades, with a significant decline in the amount of Americans who say they have favorable views of the organization, and a strong spike in those who say they have a “very unfavorable” view of Planned Parenthood (from 4 percent in 1989, to 23 percent in 2015). We can appeal to many Americans with our arguments for life, but only if we present to them leaders and examples who will truly stand up for life, 100 cases out of 100, not just when it’s convenient to them personally.

Gracy Olmstead is associate managing editor at The Federalist and the Thursday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. Her writings can also be found at The American Conservative, The Week, Christianity Today, Acculturated, The University Bookman, and Catholic Rural Life.

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