Erin Matson, co-founder of the pro-choice group Reproaction, told PJM she wanted to be sure as many conservatives as possible knew about the scandal involving one of their own, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa).
That’s why she set up a banner outside the October Values Voter Summit in Washington that read, “Abortion: Not just for your mistress.”
“People were wincing and uncomfortable,” Matson said. “They know their leadership is full of sh*t and that they are not actually living their values.”
Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, resigned from Congress a few days before the Values Voter Summit because he allegedly told his mistress, a psychologist, to have an abortion.
Murphy, a married father of one, was blindsided by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story that detailed a series of text messages the congressman sent to his lover encouraging to her to end her pregnancy. He resigned from Congress a few days later.
Matson said it was very appropriate that she and her group’s members were able to talk to conservatives about the Murphy scandal as they were on their way into the Omni Shoreham Hotel to hear an address from President Trump.
“The fact that Donald Trump became president in spite of people knowing that he was bragging about sexual assault is an incredibly painful moment to this day for millions of women around the country,” Matson said. “And you saw that anger and grief and shock reflected in the women’s marches that happened the day after inauguration.”
Apart from her continuing anger over the fact that Trump has moved into the Oval Office, Matson said the Murphy scandal demonstrated rampant hypocrisy and moral decay within the pro-life and social conservative movements.
“Their moral rot is not just their hypocrisy,” Matson said. “It’s also that they say they’re pro-woman and stand behind a president who bragged about sexual assault, and that they say they’re pro-children and are blocking Medicaid expansion and taking away access to healthcare.”
“It’s gross, and we’ll keep calling it out until we win,” Matson added.
But Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, told PJM the Murphy story actually highlighted a high degree of moral leadership among what Matson also referred to as the “radical right.”
“The public and political reaction to Murphy’s hypocrisy underscore the pro-life commitment to integrity. The pro-life community and the Republican leadership have called for Murphy to resign,” Staver said. “His moral failure meant he would not be re-elected.”
It is true that Republicans were universal in their condemnation of Murphy’s conduct.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was “extremely disappointed in the circumstances surrounding Congressman Murphy’s retirement.”
Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R), who expressed an interest in running to fill Murphy’s term in Congress, said that if everything he had heard was accurate then Murphy “has certainly disgraced the office.”
Pro-life leaders, such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, were also quick to distance themselves from Murphy, whom they once had endorsed.
Although the Family Research Council declined further comment to PJM, Perkins issued a statement in which he said news of the scandal was “disappointing and disturbing.”
Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, described his organization as being “saddened by this news.” But he also turned the focus to the pro-choice movement.
“Sadly,” Geer said, “abortionists and their allies have long helped politicians and laymen alike cover up their misconduct by taking an innocent life.”
Gary Dull, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Pastor Network, said Matson and others in the pro-choice movement might be able to use the Murphy scandal to their advantage.
“I think that has an impact on the entire movement,” Dull said. “There are always people saying those of us in the movement are in it just to be the public eye. When something like this happens, it almost appears that the accusation is accurate.”
Murphy’s scandal in ways echoed the 2012 troubles of Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), who was recorded several years before pressuring his mistress to have an abortion. After he won the election that year, it was revealed in divorce transcripts that the congressman had slept with patients and his former wife had two abortions. DesJarlais was fined by the state medical board for his conduct and went on to win re-election in 2014 and 2016.
Matson was not the only pro-choice leader to take the opportunity to blast Murphy and the pro-life movement.
“Hypocrisy reigns supreme on this issue, particularly among lawmakers,” said Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates.
However, as bad as the Murphy story might seem now, Staver does not think it will have a long-term impact because of a fundamental failure of the leadership within the pro-choice movement.
“Matson and the pro-abortion advocates have no narrative that speaks to the people,” Staver said. “Their opposition to any restrictions on abortion through all nine months speaks volumes about their moral degeneracy. That is why they are losing support among young people who are more pro-life than prior generations.”
Outrage on both sides aside, it should be noted as well that the test that sparked the congressman’s reaction was wrong: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Rep. Murphy’s lover was never pregnant.