Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jill Filipovic: Anti-abortion Rep.Tim Murphy's text exchange with lover suggests he (hypocritically) urged her to have an abortion
Filipovic: The abortion exception some pro-lifers honor: "rape, incest and me." If Murphy wants to atone, he should shut his mouth, let women guide their own lives
When is abortion OK even for the most vociferous pro-lifer? When that person needs one, of course.
The latest iteration of this old hypocrisy: US Rep. Tim Murphy, R- Pennsylvania, a “pro-life” congressman and sponsor of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, who also, texts suggest, encouraged his lover to terminate a pregnancy. (It turned out to be a scare.)
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained texts between Murphy and his mistress; in them, she criticizes him for hypocrisy after his Facebook page promoted a pro-life event.
“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,” she wrote, according to the paper.
Murphy responded, “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.”
But two days later, Murphy (or his office) sent out an e-newsletter championing the pro-life cause. (Asked about the report, a spokesperson for Murphy said, “The office has no comment or response to the story.”)
Not long after the bombshell news report about the texts, the National Republican Congressional Committee confirmed that Murphy will not seek reelection at the end of his term.
Feminists sometimes joke about the one abortion exception pro-lifers honor: “rape, incest and me.” I have interviewed abortion clinic workers with stories about pro-life protesters who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and needing the clinic’s help.
We human beings have a remarkably dark ability to see our own decisions as justifiable, while viewing others through a harsher lens.
That’s why you can be a woman opposed to abortion (for others) sitting in a clinic for your own procedure and still confirm your political views. The other women there are irresponsible and sexually loose, and you, on the other hand, are making a difficult and regrettable decision.
That’s why you can be an anti-abortion Republican congressman but still hold the apparent view that abortion rights extend solely and secretly to the women with whom you have had adulterous sex.
Murphy isn’t even the only one we have heard about in this vein. Four years ago US Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee—whose spokesman touted the Republican’s “100 percent pro-life voting record”– asked both his mistress and his wife to have abortions, too, according to reporting in the Chatanooga Times Free Press, citing documents from his divorce proceedings. He remains in Congress.
For people like this, opposition to abortion appears to be not so much about fetal life, as about controlling women. It’s about discomfort with the female power and progress facilitated by abortion rights. Which is exactly why abortion suddenly becomes an option when it will help a man’s career or his life – regardless of what the pregnant woman wants.
For those who prefer life to be simple, there is something satisfying about the rigid dogma the pro-life movement offers. It becomes less nice when that rigidity presses against the fleshy lives of actual human beings moving through a complicated world not arranged for their deeply consequential concerns.
This is why women need to be the decision-makers on this most intimate of questions. Spending nearly a year growing a human being inside your own body – nourishing it with your own nutrients, limiting your own mobility, irrevocably changing your body, holding and forming this creature in your innermost depths – this is an enormous task.
The natural and ineluctable process expands your pelvic bones, displaces your internal organs and ends with you pushing a new human out through your vagina or having your abdomen and uterus cut open to remove this new child, often tearing your most intimate and sensitive body parts. Birthing a baby is an excruciating and amazing physical feat, one that still kills and maims enormous numbers of new mothers.
It is also an astonishing gift, and in a sane world, we would be collectively humbled before the women who opt to endure it. We would not be demanding that it be mandatory.
One would hope that a moment in the personal chaos of life would give pro-lifers like Murphy the humility to admit they cannot make these decisions for anyone else. But that would require seeing women as legitimate, moral decision-makers.
If Murphy wants to atone for stepping outside the bounds of principles he tells voters he possesses, it shouldn’t be with more pro-life platitudes. He should shut his mouth, step back and let women do what he has been able to do for himself: Take the reins and guide their own lives.