Two different stories this past week told the same narrative: men abusing their power to use women.
The first: Harvey Weinstein, a famous Hollywood mogul brought down by accusations of decades of sexual harassment.
The second: Tim Murphy, a Republican pro-life congressman who seems to have urged his mistress to have an abortion.
The Weinstein story will hopefully sound the alarm for Hollywood’s terrible culture of sexual harassment. But what lesson should we draw from Murphy’s fate?
To state the obvious: Murphy should have applied his “pro-life” record to his own life, supporting in every way he could the upbringing of his new child. Instead, he chose his political career over the good of both his lover and their child. In other words, he chose his pro-life credentials over the good of the very people that pro-life people are supposed to be fighting for.
Now clearly Murphy’s disregard for the life of the child is a huge part of this story. Perhaps his pro-life politics were strategic postures to garner votes, not meaningful expressions of his convictions.
I fear, however, that the situation is far worse: Tim Murphy never really knew what it meant to be pro-life, and thus just how deeply he was betraying pro-life principles. Being pro-life is not just about the cultural and political struggle to protect children, after all. Being pro-life is also about respecting women.
And yet somehow the woman who Murphy was texting has almost disappeared from this story.
In so many aspects of life, men manipulate women for male pleasure. Abortion is often no different. When Murphy tried to persuade his mistress to procure an abortion, he was putting his needs ahead of hers. He wanted sex from her without any consequences, even if that meant that she had to bear those consequences. Did he not recognize that this abortion was ultimately about reducing her to a sex object? But why would he? Men treating women like sex objects is hardly out of the ordinary.
And so here’s the second, subtle lesson from the Murphy affair. Abortion has frequently been presented as a form of women’s liberation. But how often is it just another form of male control over women? If misogyny and sexual violence against women are common, then how can situations like this not also be common?
Episodes like this remind us that feminists and pro-life activists need to be in deeper conversation. Feminists need to be reminded that they can and should be pro-life on the issue of abortion: just like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Many in the pro-life would I hope welcome the reminder that they cannot be pro-life if they do not struggle for the sanctity of all lives, including those of women.
And so I wonder: when people excoriate Murphy for his hypocrisy, do they see just how deep that hypocrisy runs?