Hugh Hefner, Harvey Weinstein, and Abortion: Is This Connection Surprising?

Harvey Weinstein at a Planned Parenthood event
Harvey Weinstein at a Planned Parenthood event

In the press coverage of both Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (following his death, on September 28th) and media mogul Harvey Weinstein (following a bombshell New York Times article detailing decades worth of sexual harassment allegations against him, which was quickly followed by multiple rape accusations), I was struck by the same curious detail: these men accused of treating women awfully are (or were) fanatical supporters of abortion, and the writers covering their stories seem to find this surprising.

For example, Rebecca Traister, in The Cut, is “struck” by this fact, writing:

I saw Harvey Weinstein earlier this year, at a Planned Parenthood celebration. I was struck by the fact that he was there — as the Times details, he has remained a donor to and supporter of liberal organizations, women’s-rights organizations, and Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, whose daughter recently worked as his intern.

Her colleague Sierra Tishgart likewise recently detailed “Playboy Magazine’s Unlikely History of Abortion-Rights Activism.

But just what about Playboy supporting abortion is “unlikely”? These writers, and scores more like them, present this all as some sort of weird paradox, like ‘how could a man who treats (or treated) women this way also support “women’s rights”?’ But it’s only a paradox if you talk about it in the euphemistic terms of “women’s rights.” If you instead ask why someone who treats women like objects for his sexual pleasure also wants easy access to abortion, the question virtually answers itself. The ideal like a philandering misogynist would want legal abortion to exist, in case one of his girlfriends/partners/victims becomes pregnant, is hardly shocking.

Susan Brownmiller argues that the same mentality lurked behind Hefner’s support for pornography and his support for abortion, in a scathing New York Times op-ed entitled “Hugh Hefner Was My Enemy“:

Yes, he [Hefner] supported abortion rights, though so did our current president at one time. Mr. Hefner’s reason was clear. The image of the playboy he promoted in his magazine was a fellow who loved his stereo equipment, his expensive liquor and his bachelor pad, and refused to be cornered into marriage just because a young lady he had bedded had the misfortune to get pregnant. As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her 1983 book, “The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight From Commitment”: “The magazine’s real message was not eroticism but escape from the bondage of breadwinning. Sex — or Hefner’s Pepsi-clean version of it — was there to legitimize what was truly subversive about Playboy. In every issue, in every month, there was a Playmate to prove that a playboy didn’t have to be a husband to be a man.” The reason Mr. Hefner supported abortion was not from any feminist feeling; it was purely strategic.

And it’s not just folks like Brownmiller making the connection. Hugh Hefner himself recognized it. He was actually quite clear that his support for abortion (including submitting an amicus brief for Roe v. Wade) was connected to his belief that women were objects. That’s not an exaggeration. From a 2010 Vanity Fair piece:

“But feminists still oppose you for treating women as objects,” I reminded him [Hefner].

“They are objects!” he insisted. “Playboy fought for what became women’s issues, including birth control. We were the amicus curiae, friend of the court, in Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose. But the notion that women would not embrace their own sexuality is insane.”

“Some believe you have a prurient interest in them.”

“I certainly hope so!”

On the screens of Weinstein’s films, and in the pages of Hefner’s magazine, a sexy fiction was presented, separating sexuality from family, from children, and ultimately even from the humanity of the women being depicted. Abortion, by violently severing the natural connection between sex and childbirth, is crucial for maintaining that illusion. And we’re to act shocked that these men’s private lives and political advocacy were tailored to maintain the illusion? Where is the surprising paradox, exactly?

Amber Batura, in one of the many New York Times pieces marking Hefner’s death, wrote that “to Mr. Hefner, women were simply one of the interests of most heterosexual men. The magazine featured discussions of equal rights, contraception and reproductive choice. Mr. Hefner never saw that as a contradiction.” Perhaps that’s because there is no contradiction between wanting to use women for sex, and not wanting to pay child support or raise a family.


The most interesting part of all of this is that these liberal pro-choice writers seem genuinely surprised that someone might exploit women and aggressively advocate for abortion. As I hinted above, I think that it’s because of how the political issue is framed. Often, abortion is spoken of in the context of “women’s rights,” with anyone opposing legalized abortion treated as a sexist who just wants to “control women’s bodies.” And indeed, advocates for legalized abortion present themselves as “pro-choice,” and have catchy slogans like “my body, my choice.”

But popular reflection on the social and private “contributions” of men like Hefner and Weinstein should prompt us to come face-to-face with the ugly reality of abortion in America. The mantra “my body, my choice” is hollow false rhetoric for a couple of reasons. First, there’s the awkward, inescapable reality that the fetus is a biologically distinct organism with her own body, a body that can be legally dismembered in the ironic name of “bodily choice.” But there’s also the grim reality that “women’s reproductive decisions” in the realm of abortion are often made by the men who impregnated them.

The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute published a study in 2010 that closely examined the “full reproductive histories of 71 women aged 18-49 with a history of IPV [intimate partner violence] recruited from a family planning clinic, an abortion clinic and a domestic violence shelter in the United States.” They report:

A phenomenon which emerged among fifty-three respondents (74%) was male reproductive control which encompasses pregnancy-promoting behaviors as well as control and abuse during pregnancy in an attempt to influence the pregnancy outcome. Pregnancy promotion involves male partner attempts to impregnate a woman including verbal threats about getting her pregnant, unprotected forced sex, and contraceptive sabotage. Once pregnant, male partners resort to behaviors that threaten a woman if she does not do what he desires with the pregnancy. Reproductive control was present in violent as well as non-violent relationships.

So if you want to talk about men “trying to control women’s bodies,” maybe look at this shockingly-high rate of coerced abortions in violent as well as non-violent relationships. In its extreme form, that looks like Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth murdering his girlfriend Cherica Adams when she refused to have an abortion (amazingly, their unborn son survived). But what about the less extreme cases of women feeling pressured (or threatened) into abortions?

Unfortunately, the rate of coerced and pressured abortion has never been systematically studied, but it’s part of what New York Magazine calls “the complexity and ambivalence surrounding abortion.” Take, for example, this exchange between Claire Keyes (a counselor at an abortion clinic) and a woman described only as “28 years old and ten-and-a-half-weeks pregnant:”

Keyes opens the woman’s folder. “The first thing I saw in your chart,” she says, “is you’re not sure about your decision. What do you want to tell me about that?”

“I don’t know,” says the woman. “In a sense, I got too much going on, and I can’t afford to take on another child. But in a sense, I feel pressure from my boyfriend, because he don’t want the kids … so it’s like, I want to. I’m not into the whole abortion thing. I did it before”—twice, according to her chart, once last year at this very clinic—“and I really didn’t like it. I think some things happen for a reason.”

Keyes knows that most women refer to the developing lives inside of them as “babies,” rather than fetuses, whether they’re conflicted about their abortions or not. She knows that occasionally women want to keep sonograms of the fetuses they’ve aborted and even ask to see their reassembled remains once the procedure’s through. [….]

Keyes gestures toward the waiting room, where the patient’s boyfriend is sitting. “Is he an important part of your life?”

The woman hesitates. “I guess. For now.”

“He doesn’t have kids?”

“He’s got kids. He just don’t want any more.”

Keyes pauses. “I don’t feel you in this decision, and that makes me sad.” She thinks. “If you had to name a percentage—pick a number—what percentage of your decision to be here today is yours?”

The woman stares into space. “Basically, 99 percent of it is him.” She looks listlessly at Keyes. “So. Get it done and over with.”

So 99% of her reason was that the boyfriend demanded it. What about that remaining 1%, the part that is allegedly her choice? “That’s where it comes down to my percent. I have three kids already. So, he leaves, and now I have four children and no dads.” So 99% is partner pressure, and the other 1% is… basically another form of partner pressure.

Mind you, we know this particular story only because a magazine writer happened to be sitting in the room when it happened. This sort of thing is anything but rare (this woman had actually been pressured into an abortion at that clinic a year earlier, with Keyes as her counselor… and Keyes forgot about having ever met her), but it’s often not reflected in the official paperwork. In this case, the woman told Keyes to write down that the abortion was because it’s “for the best, and best interest of me, and my life.”

Does this situation sound like a win for feminism, or for women more generally? Is this what victory looks like? 

There are a lot of reasons that abortion is such a divisive topic in America: it touches on sex, on pregnancy, on human rights, and on what it means to be a person, and a whole range of moral and philosophical questions. I don’t imagine that this essay is going to single-handedly fix all of that. But it seems to me that, in light of Hugh Hefner, Harvey Weinstein, Rae Carruth, the unnamed NY Mag woman and her boyfriend, and innumerable other examples, maybe we can at least all agree that not everyone who supports abortion is doing so for feminist reasons, or out of a deep wellspring of love for women, and that not everyone who opposes abortion is doing so because they hate women and want to control their bodies?



  1. Writing on this topic seems to bring forth the image of stirring a cesspool. So many people are so deluded. God’s heart surely breaks to transform that pool into life-giving water. This airing of such putridity in the public consciousness is probably a good thing. At least society is looking at a bit of reality, so that some may be ‘struck’ out of their illusions and delusions.

    NONE of the people mentioned above regard abortion as anything other than an accepted method to solve a problem. It is seen as a RIGHT which no one questions. Fr. Spitzer claims this results from society’s legalization of abortion. The law has become normative and neutral. Society has eased into the view of the law as a ‘right’ and a ‘good.’ All so gradual and easy, like the frog in the pot of water heated by such slow degree he barely knows he’s been burned to a crisp.

  2. Hitler, vegetarianism, and art: is the connection surprising?

    1. Joe made a case for the connection between abortion and the culture of abuse.

      Suggestion…substitute “obvious” for “surprising,” then move on from there with something like an argument.

  3. The problem we find with people like Harvey Weinstein, Hugh Hefner and countless others of their type is that regular folk often see them as mountains of worldly virtue and pillars of success. And notice how almost all of Hollywood and even US presidential candidates and politicians ‘look up’ to such people, and honor them for being worldly successful, socially famous and able to make boatloads of money in their lives.

    But, what’s the problem with this? It’s because what many folk see as ‘towering mountains’ are really not mountains at all, but the contrary… deep, dark valleys, filled with pit of vipers and scorpions all around them wherein misery, spiritual blindness and the spiritual slavery of hell reigns supreme.

    Moreover, the folk who follow, support and honor such people as Weinstein and Hefner are really honoring something akin to ‘slave traders’ of two hundred years ago. And that is because all sin makes people slaves, and even ‘blind slaves’ wherein they cannot distinguish good from evil, truth from error, freedom from slavery. Of this, Jesus said:

    “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’? Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. ” (John 8:31)

    So, all of these famous people who make their money from, and build their careers on the promotion of the 7 deadly sins….are really just slave traders, and slave masters, who seek to keep people from the clear vision of spiritual truth that God sent Christ into the world to offer to us. Christ by teaching the Truth is working to set men free from their captivity to their own vices and vanities. And worldly kingpins and moguls do the exact opposite, they invent ever new ways to enslave souls so that they be blinded to truth and fall deeper into slavery to sins and addictions, because their main business is to make money off of these same sins and addictions. The deeper the pit of addiction, the more money they make and the more famous and popular they become in the eyes of of their addicted followers.

    Thank God for Jesus who shows us the true ‘mountain of God’ (found in the Catholic Church), and the way we can become His disciples and thereby grow ever more liberated from the miserable slavery to vice, sin and the powers of evil.

  4. I wonder what part modern Protestantism had in the spread of the Liberal sexual revolution of modern times?
    Most Protestant denominations were supporters of some forms of birth control as far back as the 1930’s, whereas the Catholic faith adamantly opposed it, and still does. And, it was birth control that led to the rise of people such as Hugh Hefner, Playboy INC, and all other sorts of similar sex orientated organizations, including the rapid growth of Planned Parenthood.

    Maybe if the Protestants actually joined the Catholics in their opposition to birth control back in the 1930’s, our traditional values concerning Christian marriage and sexual ethics would have remained until our present time?

    Don’t blame the Catholics, though, for not striving for this objective.

  5. A Prophetic Encyclical:
    The 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical of Pope Paul VI predicted some effects of widespread use of contraception: 1) Lower moral standards for the young and increased marital infidelity. 2) Lower respect for women. Men will increasingly regard women as instruments to serve selfish desires. 3) Governments or other public authorities would impose their use without regard for moral law.

    Weinstein offers proof of two predictions. He regarded neither his first nor his second wife nor any of the numerous other (predominantly young) women with whom he came in contact. He demonstrated little sense of moral understanding. He appeared to understand only selfishness, brutality, rape, and power-brokering.

    Obamacare proved the third when it forced employers to pay for contraception, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious organization.

    These and worse consequences followed in fewer than fifty years.

  6. Ha, ha! This must be the worst post ever Joe. Honestly, where do Catholics come off lecturing others about sexual morality?? Did you not notice that the biggest sexual scandal of our time was provided not by Hefner or Weinstein, but by the Catholic clergy you so worship?

    It’s so not in the interest of Catholics to bring up the subject of sexual scandal, or anything having to do with sex, because at the first moment the words “sex” and “Catholic” come together in any media the first thing to come to mind for readers will be the priest child rape scandal. All you’re doing is preaching to choir, which accomplishes nothing beyond fueling the mutual validation society which is the primary ailment afflicting this blog and most of the Catholic web.

    It would be far wiser to simply avoid the subject of sex altogether, and focus on things the Church is truly good at, like Catholic Charities. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, they’re those good Catholics that none of the other Catholics online want to ever talk about.

    1. Phil.
      “Did you not notice that the biggest sexual scandal of our time” = incorrect, or, at least, incomplete. A better line would’ve been “the biggest reported sexual scandal of our time”. From “The Media Report”: “Notwithstanding the media hysteria over sex abuse in the Catholic Church, priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males. While even one case of abuse is too many, approximately only 4% of all active priests between 1950 and 2002 were even accused of abuse – a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population”. Meanwhile, “A 2004 U.S. Department of Education report reported that “the most accurate data available” reveals that “nearly 9.6 percent of [public school] students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career.” This result prompted Hofstra University’s Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, the author of the study, to opine in 2006, “[T]hink the Catholic Church has a problem? The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.” Perhaps, given your reaction to JH’s post, you are one of those readers for whom “the first thing to come to mind [is] the priest child rape scandal”. If this is the case, the study from “The Media Report” is easily accessible and very exhaustive and objective.
      “It’s so not in the interest of Catholics to bring up the subject of sexual scandal, or anything having to do with sex, because at the first moment the words “sex” and “Catholic” come together in any media the first thing to come to mind for readers will be the priest child rape scandal” = small-minded and cowardly. It’s never a good idea not to write about something for fear of what the readers may think of it. If this were the case, all JH could write about would be the weather – oops, given the recent natural catastrophes, not even that.

      1. Thanks for giving some actual statistics LLC. Too many people ‘bear false witness’ by exaggerating ‘fake news’ and gossip. And it’s been happening for centuries.

        There’s a great book that sets the facts straight about so many false claims and ‘fake news’ made about Catholicism and it’s history. It’s called: “How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization”.

        If Phil read this little book, just using about 2 days of his time, he would at least understand countless ways that our entire Western civilization was built upon the inventions, educational institutions, scientific discoveries, agricultural advancements, etc.. of Catholic monks, religious, priests, popes and hierarchy, not to mention the countless Catholic laity. Without such a Catholic history, the world as we know it would be so different as to be not be recognizable.

        This is a truly awesome book that all Catholics should read. There is an excellent preview of about 75 pgs. of the contents at Goodreads, here. :

    2. Phil: it would be wise for you to refrain from commenting after you’ve dripped turpentine into your bong. Wait until you’ve saved enough dole at least for some dried horseweed.

      Al, your tenacity is worthy of sainthood, because this decrepit Hashbury leftover is incapable of anything more profound than repeating the butt-sniffed wisdom of 70’s – era discredited and forgotten self-help gurus.

      God bless you, you keep trying, for his and His sake.

      1. AK, I would be happy if everyone takes a look at the book. And the reason why, is that it really describes the two parts that make up the Catholic Church, the Mary part and the Martha part. And without understanding how the Church is VALIDLY composed of BOTH dominant charisms in its ecclesiology, many errors occur in the understanding of it.

        I’m generalizing somewhat, but most Protestants and Phil, also, seem to view these two charisms/typologies wrong concerning the Church. They would rather predominantly choose ONE charism, either the ‘active works’ charism of Martha… to the predominant exclusion of the ‘purely faithful’ Mary, or vice versa. And when the Church says that BOTH are shown by Christ to be very important for ecclesiology, they complain. With ‘faith alone’ works are not seen on and equal level, so Protestants would seem to be biased towards the ‘Mary’ typology concerning ecclesiology.

        For example, one of the greatest complaints of Luther , Calvin and Zwingli were their disgust for the lavish art, statues and paintings of the Catholics of their time. And therefore iconoclasm was generally preached as a remedy. Even Phil, our friend, frequently talks about such things as the cost of such beautiful art and architecture, and uses the ‘Catholic charities’ argument to give an alternative solution to remedy this disgust for costly art/archetecture, etc.. in the Church. So what they are really doing is choosing the ‘Mary’ typology or ecclesiological charism over the ‘Martha’ ecclesiological. And , of course, Jesus Himself DID SAY that Mary has “chosen the better part”. But, Jesus never said Mary has chosen the ONLY GOOD PART…as Phil might imply. BOTH Mary and Martha were acceptable to Him, Mary the ‘contemplative’ (that Phil seems to favor) and Martha the ‘toiled laborer and culinary artist’ taking care of ‘physical business’ in this world. Jesus accepts BOTH charisms as valuable. It’s just that Jesus says if you need to value one over the other, Mary has indeed chosen the “better part”, because contemplation/prayer is absolutely necessary for eternal life, but creating beautiful works of music, architecture, culinary dishes, clothing, literature, theater, etc…is not necessary. That is, poverty is acceptable in these regards. However, having both charisms, that of Mary AND Martha inherent in ecclesiology, is ideal. Having beautiful expressions and creations that portray and reveal our faith and wisdom does not take away from the ‘Mary type’ of piety and contemplation, but rather, it enhances it and makes it known to others. It’s a type of evangelization. Mary could care less because she is a contemplative, but Martha is more of an evangelist, who practices her faith THROUGH HER WORKS. Without Martha nothing would get done…ie. little or no writing… or even the preservation of scripture; no physical churches to worship in, no institutions or corporate projects, probably no reading… as it needs to be taught in institutions and schools, etc… So, with a world full of “Mary’s” we wouldn’t even have very many children, as the raising of them requires enormous works and labors for them.

        Anyway, this is a big subject. Maybe we can review it in the future when it comes up. But it is fascinating how both the worldly side of the Church as well as the Heavenly side are important for ecclesiology. They go together like husband and wife…or maybe…like sister and sister.

        1. “AK, I would be happy if everyone takes a look at the book.”

          You convinced me, though not hard for you to do. I already had that on my Amazon wish list, and have heard of it before.

          Yes, it seems to be an observable fact that where other, non-Judeo-Christian faiths reign (Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) until Western influence becomes dominant, life remains primitive and cheap – exceptions on both sides are non-systemic and attributable to variations in individual human personalities. The value J-C faith paradigms place on individual human life not only facilitates advancement of the human condition, but moderates the severity of conflict. Of course, I include modern Communism and new ageism/modernism in those “faiths” which fail at valuing human life (often advocating “breaking a few eggs” under the guise of “improving” the omelet of the human condition) in favor of some “higher” goal….or guru…or Dear Leader…..

          Get ready for the “oh wow, man…” to follow….

          Sounds like its in the lines of “The Glory of the Crusades,” which I, as well, recommend.

          1. I think Jesus sums up the Mary/Martha episode, and model for future ecclesiology, with this statement:

            “I do NOT ask that you take them OUT of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

            Hereby, the Church ‘being in the world, but not OF the world’ …it transforms the world into the image that Christ wants, following the prayer Christ taught: “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”.

            The Catholic Church has irrevocably changed the world over the last 2000 years, guiding it towards God and all of the virtues He provides it, such as: knowledge, wisdom, piety, fortitude, love, humility, justice.. etc…and continues to change it for the better to this very day. By following all of these virtues, all of Western civilization is benefitted, not only the Catholics. Everything is effected by the virtuous laws, customs, cultures, institutions, achievements, etc… inspired, and created, by it (…not to say that it isn’t a struggle to create, or institute, them).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *