Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Opinion

Column: Sex, sanctimony and Congress

Our topic for today is hypocrisy. The scene is — where else? — Congress.

This week the House of Representatives voted 237-189 to make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion on a woman who has been pregnant more than 20 weeks. Victory for the anti-choice forces. One of whom was apparently very interested in maintaining all options when he thought his own girlfriend was expecting.

Meet Tim Murphy, a Republican congressman from the Pittsburgh suburbs who has a doctorate in psychology and is the co-author of a couple of books with titles like Overcoming Passive-Aggression. He's married but — prodded by information revealed at his lover's divorce trial — he admits having strayed with another psychologist.

Murphy is a co-sponsor of the anti-abortion bill. At about the same time it was passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a note his mistress had texted in January, complaining about the way he kept putting pro-life messages on his Facebook page "when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week. ..."

Whoops. This is not actually a unique story. There's a history of lawmakers who are eager to restrict abortions in every case not involving their own personal sex life.

Back in the '90s Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., was targeted by his ex-wife, who claimed he had helped her get an abortion while they were married. It was a particularly embarrassing episode since Barr was so dedicated to the anti-choice movement he once said he'd stop his wife from having an abortion even if she had gotten pregnant via a rape. (This was a different ex-wife from the one who announced Barr had taken her to the abortionist. One of the things the various stars of this story have in common is a certain friskiness.)

More recently, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who bragged about his "100 percent pro-life voting record," was confronted with pesky divorce records that showed he'd encouraged women to have abortions, including his ex-wife and a patient with whom he was having an affair. DesJarlais, a physician, is still in Congress and this week he was right there voting again against other people's abortion rights.

In the case of Tim Murphy, the girlfriend's pregnancy was a false alarm. But the Post-Gazette texts showed him apologizing to her about the anti-abortion Facebook posts. He then denied having written them and blamed everything on "staff."

Murphy's district is so safe he could be re-elected if he eloped with a gerbil. But on Thursday, he submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker Paul Ryan, effective Oct. 21.

Murphy is not one of those genial lawmakers whose affable demeanor makes him popular with his peers. Or even with his own office. The Post-Gazette also came up with a memo, apparently written by his chief of staff, complaining about constant turnover due to his "hostile, erratic, unstable, angry, aggressive and abusive behavior."

Have I mentioned that Murphy is also the only practicing psychologist in Congress? And co-chairman of the Mental Health Caucus? True fact.

Let's get back to the anti-abortion bill that Murphy was so shamelessly supporting. Late abortions aren't popular with anybody. The sparse information available suggests that women who choose to have them often delay making a decision because they're young, short on money and short on education.

If so, the most effective way to fight against late-term abortions would obviously be programs like teen pregnancy prevention. And making it easy for low-income women to afford contraceptives. And providing easy access to clinics like Planned Parenthood that offer both health services and counseling on effective birth control.

We hardly need to point out that these are all things the Trump administration is trying to defund. When former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price wasn't busy flying around in private planes, he was waging war on federal services aimed at stopping unwanted pregnancies. The underlings who are still running the show appear to be gearing up for an abstinence-only approach to sex education, possibly the single most effective way to guarantee a surge of demand for abortion in the future.

And the Republican majority seems keen on cutting back spending on health care for poor children.

"I don't know anything else to call that but pure hypocrisy: We love it until it is born, and then it is somebody else's problem," said Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, who was leading the Democratic opposition to the anti-abortion bill.

So that's our story. The moral is to beware of aggrieved, texting girlfriends. And politicians who want to be called pro-life without having to pay for it.

© 2017 New York Times

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