Can compassion for Tim Murphy help us feel compassion for women?

Dear Joel,

In an otherwise terrible week, a ray of good news: U.S. Representative Tim Murphy, a Republican of Pennsylvania, thought he might have gotten his mistress pregnant and pressured her to have an abortion. Murphy, a social conservative with high ratings from pro-life and “family values” groups, kept pushing for anti-abortion laws just days after pressuring his mistress to get one.

Now, don’t think I’m crass. I’m not calling this “good news” because I enjoy watching hypocritical social conservatives get exposed. I’m calling it “good news” because it makes the value of abortion very clear.

Murphy is the archetypical pro-life villain: a man who wants to escape the consequences of his sexual immorality through a coerced abortion. Murphy and his mistress have every privilege that makes pregnancy preventable: money, education, access to reliable birth control. And still, he couldn’t control his sexual appetites, couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, couldn’t be bothered with contraception, couldn’t take on the responsibility of an unwanted pregnancy or child. And here is what the villain in the pro-life story would have done,  had Shannon Edwards, thirty years his junior and a work colleague, been pregnant: he pays for the abortion, dumps her, and threatens to ruin her life if she speaks up. It’s very easy to imagine Murphy doing just that.

All this despite, the moral influence of Murphy’s education in a private Catholic college and university and of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, where he and his wife attend services. Murphy has been taught that life begins at conception, and he is well-versed in pro-life rhetoric and scientific claims about fetal development. He knows that sex can lead to pregnancy. (It’s kinda key in Catholicism.) He knows that by the time a woman knows she’s pregnant, the fetus she is carrying has a beating heart, and he knows that abortion stops that heart from beating. (It’s kinda key in the pro-life movement.)

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Above, a tweet from Rep. Tim Murphy includes a photo a”Precious Feet” pin, a lapel pin representing a fetus’ feet at 10 weeks of gestation. Can a person believe that abortion kills children and still think its acceptable in order to protect himself? Representative Tim Murphy apparently thinks so. 

But he was willing to do that to save his own sorry hide.

And still, yesterday, he voted to ban abortion after a fetus is 20 weeks of age except in cases when a pregnant woman is a victim of rape or incest or when her life is in danger. To be clear: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is not about fetal pain. Our best science says that fetuses don’t feel pain until well after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  It is about limiting the ability of women to get an abortion. On one end, we have a rash of laws–new waiting periods that require multiple trips to far off clinics, for example–that increase the cost of getting an earlier abortion. On the other, the House is trying to make it impossible to get abortions in the second half of pregnancy. Between week 6 of pregnancy (when many women are figuring out that they are pregnant) and week 20, there are just 14 weeks to decide that you want an abortion, raise the money, find a physician you trust to do it, and get it done.

And 20 weeks isn’t a random number. It’s when women are receiving the results of the prenatal tests that indicate whether a fetus has a high likelihood of a fetal abnormality or a chromosomal disorder.  This ban is about reducing abortion without providing women or families any real help in addressing unwanted pregnancies or rearing a child with significant health needs. Like almost all pro-life legislation, it does nothing to lower the need for abortion or care for families.

I suppose Murphy has asked Jesus for forgiveness for his intention of murdering his (nonexistent) unborn child and is good with God now, though I hope his priest denies him communion this Sunday and that there is a host of reporters sitting in the pews to witness it. Perhaps he can even justify his anti-abortion vote by saying that he personally knows how easy it is to be tempted by a wrong choice and that the government has the responsibility to help women not make it.

Instead of shaming women, though, Murphy might reach out to us: Many of us know what it’s like to face an unwanted pregnancy. Half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned, so a lot of women have likely felt the panic, or at least something like it, that Murphy felt. Even those of us who have “chosen life” have had moments of despair thinking about what we are giving up when we have children. We wonder, as perhaps Murphy did, how we were going to survive it.

If we can be compassionate to Murphy, who is a hypocritical scumbag and still has the right to pressure his girlfriend to terminate a pregnancy, then we can be compassionate to other pregnant people. We’ve created an America that makes unplanned pregnancy a terrible burden. It’s rational to want to end pregnancies that will result in babies that ruin our lives. If the rich and powerful feel that way, of course the poor and vulnerable, who cannot absorb the cost of a child like Murphy could, will. Rather than making life harder for these people, we should be doing what we know reduces abortion: prevent pregnancy and attack poverty. 


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