Herschel Walker's abortion scandal won't alienate Christian right voters — here's why

Trump showed Republican voters are fine with sexual freedom — for straight conservative men

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 4, 2022 1:00PM (EDT)

Herschel Walker in front of an American Flag and a cross (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Herschel Walker in front of an American Flag and a cross (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Monday evening, Roger Sollenberger of the Daily Beast (and formerly of Salon) published a blockbuster scoop: Herschel Walker, former NFL running back and current Georgia Senate candidate for the GOP, allegedly asked for and paid for a girlfriend to get an abortion in 2009. Walker has taken a hard line against abortion, wanting it banned in all cases, even to save the life of the pregnant person. The woman, who understandably wants to remain anonymous, substantiated her claim with a receipt from the abortion clinic, a check from Walker, a get-well card he gave her, and the testimony of the friend who took care of her after the abortion.

Walker denies it happened. Walker also has a history of shameless lying, to the point where his own campaign aides describe him as a "pathological liar." He claimed to have graduated in the top 1% of his University of Georgia class, but in fact, he didn't graduate college at all. He lied about a career in law enforcement and training with the FBI. Like his mentor, Donald Trump, Walker has repeatedly lied about his business, claiming successes that aren't realHe had multiple secret children, even lying to his own campaign to hide them. As far as Walker's credibility goes, it might be safer at this point to assume anything he says could well be a lie. But that does not mean he will lose Christian right support over allegations of a secret abortion. They will simply scream "fake news!!!!" to dismiss this deeply reported allegation, and call it a day.

They simply do not care. The abortion issue is not and never has been about "life."

It is unlikely that Republicans actually believe Walker over this anonymous woman, but they don't have to. They simply do not care. The abortion issue is not and never has been about "life." Abortion bans are about controlling women and punishing female sexuality, full stop. Walker is a straight cisgender man and a Republican. That means, as far as the Christian right is concerned, he can do whatever he wants when it comes to sex. 

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It's not news that the much-ballyhooed "family values" of Republicans amount to little more than a transparent gloss on their belief in maintaining male supremacy and rigid gender roles. This is the same party that fervently supported Trump, a thrice-married chronic adulterer who was caught on tape bragging about how he loves to sexually assault women. Trump has probably only avoided being outed for having paid for an abortion by virtue of being a skinflint notorious for reneging on promises to pay for anything.

But somehow there is still this chronic myth in the mainstream media that Christian conservatives "really believe" abortion is murder. They do not, because they are not reacting to this story like one would if one actually thought abortion is murder.  For instance, evangelical broadcaster Erick Erickson called the story "old news" (it hasn't been reported before) and said, "people do change." 

Hard to imagine Erickson would shrug off the actual murder of an actual child as "old news." 

The opposition to legal abortion is strictly about protecting ye ol' patriarchy and reaffirming a rigid, gender-based social pecking order that puts straight men over everyone else. That much is evident in how most of the self-appointed guardians of "life" are reacting to this story: by viciously attacking Walker's son, Christian Walker. The young man, who had previously supported Walker's campaign, responded to the story by tweeting, "I'm done" and denouncing his father for airing "out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it."

Christian Walker has admitted he's "attracted to men" but has claimed he's not "gay" because "I'm not hooking up with four people per weekend." That bit of dodginess has not protected him from Republicans turning on him the second that he talked back to his dad. A GOP official told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein that Christian Walker is "a deeply disturbed kid" and "a spoiled brat" who "is solely to blame if Herschel loses the race."

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Blaming a not-gay-just-attracted-to-men son rather than the actual candidate who allegedly wrote the check for the abortion may not make sense logically. But it comports with the Christian right ideology, which is not about "life" or "family values," but about strict gender roles, where straight men have carte blanche and "morality" is all about policing the personal lives of women and LGBTQ people. 

Abortion bans are about punishing women, not men. 

Right now, there's a sitting Republican congressman named Scott DesJarlais who keeps running and winning in Tennessee by claiming "family values" and being "100 percent" anti-abortion. But like Walker, that "100 percent" revolves around imagining only women choosing abortions. DesJarlais has a history of being all for abortion if he's the one choosing it. He didn't just encourage his mistress to have an abortion; he also backed his ex-wife's two abortions, one for health reasons and the other because "things were not going well" between them at the time. His voters don't hold it against him. Again, abortion bans are about punishing women, not men. 

If they could get away with it, I have no doubt the anti-choice movement would prefer a law that allows abortions if men agree to them, but not otherwise. In fact, that's the stance that Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe in June, took in 1991. The case was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and one of the abortion regulations being challenged was a provision requiring married women to notify their husbands before getting an abortion. Alito upheld the law, claiming it was not an "undue burden" because women could beg a judge for an exemption. The Supreme Court later struck down that provision  though not other restrictions), because Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took offense at women being treated like their husband's property. 

The recent Texas abortion law, based on a "bounty hunter" system, also embeds this notion that women are male property. The law technically allows anyone to sue someone who "abets" an abortion, and common sense tells us the people most likely to want to file such lawsuits would be abusive men trying to punish their exes. In fact, despite anti-choice claims they have no desire to arrest women for abortions, it didn't take long for a Texas woman to be arrested for "murder" after a self-induced abortion. It turns out that one of the five prosecutors in the District Attorney's office was also representing the woman's ex-husband in their divorce. 

A similar situation is playing out in Arizona, where Mario Villegas is suing a clinic for "wrongful death" of an embryo for allowing his ex-wife to get an abortion. Villegas' argument is that his ex-wife supposedly didn't understand what she was doing. She, on the other hand, maintains she is still glad for the abortion, which she got after being led to believe he had a vasectomy. But in anti-choice eyes, her opinion simply doesn't matter. All that matter is what the man thinks. 

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Yes, in the real world, there are plenty of men who would support their partner's abortions and will be negatively affected by abortion bans. But those men are just collateral damage in the religious right's imagination, viewed a bit with suspicion if they seem too keen on "letting" women make the choice. Mostly the focus is on using forced childbirth as a weapon to keep women in unhappy relationships and out of the workforce. 

This brings us back to Walker's long history of shady behavior — the allegations of dishonesty and hypocrisy don't offend the religious right because he doesn't violate their main precept, which is patriarchal dominance over women, children and LGBTQ people. He was accused by his ex-wife of holding a gun to her head and threatening to kill her. His supporters accept his weak excuses, just like they accepted Trump bragging about how he likes to "grab 'em by the pussy." Violence against women reaffirms male supremacy, so the Christian right has no problem with it. 

That's not to say this story will definitely have no impact. There are always voters on the margin who, like Walker's son, might get fed up with the amount of lying or begin to doubt the wisdom of the sadistic, misogynist ideology of the Christian right. More importantly, there's evidence that the abortion issue is motivating women who were otherwise checked out of politics to vote in this midterm election. A reminder that Republicans will excuse a man for an abortion while throwing a woman in jail is bound to lead even more pro-choice voters to the polls. But don't expect Christian conservatives to turn on Walker. Abortion, in their eyes, is only "murder" if it's the woman choosing it. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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