Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Not too infrequently, I get into arguments with fellow pro-choicers about the sincerity of those who profess moral or religious objections to abortion. It’s really all about sex or all about denying women autonomy, I am told; all the God-talk and the fetus posters are a shuck.

I understand antichoice politics is in many cases a reflection of broader atavistic views, and I continue to struggle with the reasoning of conservative evangelicals who claim a biblical sanction for their hard-core antichoice position that I just don’t see at all (Catholics at least have a basis in tradition, papal teachings, and even Aristotelian biological notions for being antichoice). And I am acutely aware that many of those on the other side of the barricades on abortion policy think of themselves as engaged in a culture war with many, many dimensions.

Still, I do believe there are many antichoicers who feel compelled to oppose reproductive rights on the basis of a sincere belief that abortions represent homicides, and thus that legalized abortion represents something more important than all the other issues put together. I think they’re absolutely wrong, but I don’t think they’re making it up or simply disguising a generalized misogyny (particularly the many women who are antichoice activists).

That’s why I don’t understand the political survival of someone like Rep. Steve DesJarlais (R-TN), who’s at least even money for winning a third term over a strong primary challenge today.

DesJarlais is a big antichoice, “pro-family” pol first elected (like so many other mistakes) in 2010. During his 2012 re-election campaign, evidence began leaking out through various outlets that he had a history of alleged spousal abuse, serial adultery, sexual relationships with patients and at least three occasions of encouraging a woman to have an abortion (twice his soon-to-be-former wife, once a patient). Much of these toxic allegations seem to have been confirmed when DesJarlais’ divorce papers from his first wife were opened just after his 2012 re-election.

In dealing with this evidence, DesJarlais has allowed as how he made some mistakes in a “difficult period of his life,” blah blah blah, and has denied pushing a lover to have an abortion (though not pushing his then-wife to have two of them). So without even the drama of a public confession and act of contrition, he’s back to trying to pass laws telling other people how to live their sex lives.

I do not understand how anyone who actually thinks of abortion as a homicidal act can vote for someone–a medical professional no less–who admits to having encouraged it with no apparent great remorse. That it seems to have occurred as part of a pattern of systemic disregard for personal and professional ethical standards doesn’t help.

DesJarlais did attract a strong primary opponent, but at least one poll shows the incumbent with a healthy lead. We’ll see what happens tonight. But much as I wonder why the Republican voters of Louisiana so easily forgave David Vitter for illegal and adulterous sexual behavior, I can’t fathom the “he’s on our team” mentality of serious antichoicers who would vote for Scott DesJarlais. I mean, really, can’t you find someone to send to Congress who doesn’t make you all look like hypocrites?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.