Pennsylvania’s Rep. Tim Murphy resigned last week after a text from a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair surfaced during her divorce proceedings. It implied Murphy had pressured her to have an abortion: “And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options.”
Murphy reportedly texted back the same day: “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.”
It later turned out to be “an unfounded pregnancy scare,” but caused a firestorm of criticism from all sides. The scandal was compounded by reports of appalling treatment of his staffers and culminated in his resignation.
Amid the attacks from the Left decrying Murphy as a hypocrite and bully and seeking to smear the entire pro-life movement with his moral corruption, it’s important for pro-lifers to step back and look at the big picture. Critics on the Left are at least right to point out that Murphy’s failure to live up to the values he has espoused should not merely be atomized and swept through the news cycle as a one-off. Important lessons can be drawn from his scandal.
Murder Is Worse than Hypocrisy
While conservatives can reasonably maintain that Murphy’s disgraceful behavior is not as common in pro-life circles as, say, sexual abuse is in Hollywood, they must admit that Murphy’s greatest failing here was not deceit or hypocrisy, but pressuring a mother to destroy the life he created with her. And this is all too common. The lure of convenience, of protecting one’s life from shame, embarrassment, responsibility, and dramatic change, draws the powerful and the ordinary alike. Abortion makes it possible to at least pretend that a “mistake” can be erased.
Far from freeing women to “pursue their dreams,” the legality of abortion exposes them to a temptation that, when indulged, does not pay off in the way they imagine. It might keep their careers on track or reputations intact, but women who abort often find lifelong heartache. The BBC published multiple letters from women describing their abortion stories, and many were filled with guilt and regret. Moreover, their sexual partners and even families are exposed to the same temptation, subjecting pregnant mothers to intense pressure and outright coercion.
“My husband was very upset about it and really wanted me to abort,” wrote one woman. Another wrote her sisters pledged to support her abortion as a teenager and her boyfriend’s father offered to pay for it. Yet another described being forced into an abortion at 16, and another was pressured into an abortion from her “career-oriented” parents. The thought processes that lead to abortion start well before the smooth sales pitch from the consulting nurse at the abortion mill, and Edwards’ text reminds us of that.
If Murphy Is a Hypocrite, So Are Most Republicans
But much of the commentary on the scandal has focused on the fact that Murphy had just voted with a majority of the House to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion 20 weeks post-fertilization. The ban and Murphy’s affair are tightly linked: one is founded on pro-family, conservative values, and the other was an abysmal failure to live up to those values.
Yet on a moment’s reflection, one should realize that the act of pressuring his girlfriend to abort, though deplorable, did not directly conflict with his vote for the late-term abortion ban. Edwards’ pregnancy was thought to be so early it turned out she was not pregnant at all. Yet the late-term abortion ban is so late that close to 99 of abortions take place before that point in pregnancy. While of course the ban is good, its real-world effects on child destruction would be tiny.
In fact, when was the last time Congress voted on anything approaching a bill that would criminalize, or even severely limit access to, first-term or early second-term abortion? Murphy wasn’t being a hypocrite, at least in his actual votes. He was being a moderate.
Whatever the motives, inconsistencies, and personal failings of the representatives who voted for the bill, it is a step in the right direction. If passed, the Pain Capable Act would save lives. For that reason alone, it deserves support. Yet we would be remiss to not consider that such moderate measures as defunding Planned Parenthood (a step myriad Republican candidates for Congress and the president promised) and banning late-term abortions might actually fit Murphy’s ideology.
NPR reports that Murphy told the audience at a 2010 Right to Life Convention that “Every child deserves a chance to have a choice at life. Every baby deserves a chance to have a choice at life. And every parent should be supported in their responsibility and commitment to raise that child.” But his text to his former mistress said he “cringed” at the pro-life messages his staff posted, which were much tamer than the above statement.
It leaves open the possibility that his actions do, in fact, speak louder than his words. If we judge Murphy by his votes, then perhaps he only thinks very early abortions that are not funded with taxes are morally acceptable? Perhaps those early lives are merely “fetuses,” and not the babies he referred to in his Right to Life speech? Perhaps he does believe that employers have the right to refuse contraception and abortion coverage to employees, but that it’s still ultimately a woman’s choice if she wants to kill her preborn child?
Murphy’s actions cast light on the fact that the GOP, far from pushing a “radical anti-abortion agenda” as the Left claims, has a moderate and largely ineffective track record on the abortion issue at the national level. Anti-abortion voters are chronically exasperated with the Republican Party for not pushing hard enough for pro-life measures, much less getting them enacted. To them abortion, like all social issues, is mostly an electoral wedge to drive out the base.
The party has a few real fighters for defending the preborn, like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but for the most part, taxes and business top the GOP list of priorities. Tax reform first. Abolition of the barbaric act of murdering life in the womb? “Not a near-term priority,” GOP Senate whip John Cornyn said when asked about bringing the 20-week ban to the floor.
Restricting abortion is an uphill battle on the hill, to be sure. The GOP doesn’t have a filibuster-proof majority to pass this bill in the Senate, but the fact that it isn’t even a priority for a vote and that the GOP is not willing to do anything to put the screws into Democrats the way they do on Republicans when the tables are turned does tell us something about the prevailing mentality of congressional leadership.
Murphy’s Hypocrisy Does Not Justify Supporting Abortion
Despite Murphy’s pro-life voting record, it is not all that shocking he suggested his mistress terminate her pregnancy. People who give lip service to one moral code and live by another are scattered across all ideological divides. To not ever find one on the pro-life side would be quite extraordinary, given our selfish human natures.
But Murphy’s deceit is not an excuse to sweep aside the mountain of evidence for the humanity of the preborn and our duty to protect them. Lying is not worse than murder—not even close. Nor is the pro-life movement a cover for misogyny or to control what women do. Pro-lifers come from both sexes and all walks of life not just to foment the sanctity of human life, but to expose the reality that abortion is not a liberating experience for women. It is terrible for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We fight for children and women, which is why Murphy’s scandal is so infuriating and an affront to everything we stand for. The Left asserts that Murphy’s pro-life stance is just a vehicle to control and oppress women, but the irony is that his failure to live up to his pro-life reputation clearly demonstrated exactly that. His suggestion to abort was not just cowardly, it was an assault on mother and child.
Murphy isn’t unique. The fallen natures of every one of us are prone to selfish cruelty. Even people who are pro-life find abortion too attractive an option to not at least consider it. In the end, we should take away from Murphy’s moral failing this: our temptation toward cruelty for the sake of convenience is exactly why we must fight in earnest to restrict abortion until it is finally abolished.