law

Yes, I’m pro choice. I’m also against the death penalty. They’re completely different issues.

Yesterday, after I wrote about Lisa Montgomery, I shared a link to the post on Facebook. A pro-life friend of mine was surprised that I’d be anti-death penalty. She commented that it was a very “pro-life” stance. Although she didn’t mention it, I have a feeling she was surprised I’d be against the death penalty because I also support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to continue a pregnancy. But she should not have been surprised. I think there’s a huge difference between someone waiting to be executed by the government and a person deciding to terminate a pregnancy for whatever reason.

I’ve actually written several times about this phenomenon of people conflating a person’s views on abortion with their views on capital punishment. I know most of my friends are smart enough to know that there’s a big difference between killing a person who has already been born and has a concept of life and death, and terminating a pregnancy, especially in the earliest period of gestation.

In my 48 years of life, I have yet to meet a single person who remembers what life was like in the womb. As near as I can tell, developing fetuses are basically unconscious until they’re born. No one I know remembers the process of being born, or even their earliest days after being born. That does NOT mean I think it’s okay to kill babies that have been born, nor does it mean I think late term abortions are appropriate in every situation. Fortunately, the data suggest that the vast majority of late term abortions are done in dire medical situations that involve the potential death of the mother or the inevitable death of the fetus. They are also exceedingly rare.

Only about 1.3% of abortions in the United States are done after the 21st week of gestation; they cost a lot, typically aren’t covered by health insurance, and there is a huge stigma attached to them. Personally, I think people should have a lot more compassion for women who have late term abortions. They are usually losing babies that they wanted, typically due to a catastrophic medical issue that, frankly, is no one else’s business. Most abortions done for less tragic reasons happen much earlier in a pregnancy. And that is how it should be. Abortions are always going to happen. Laws intended to restrict them do nothing more than force women to wait longer or cause them to seek alternative arrangements that may be unsafe.

I have a lot of reasons for not liking capital punishment. The main issue I have with the death penalty is that, in so many cases, there’s a chance (no matter how small) that the person being condemned is actually innocent. If there is even the remotest chance that a person is innocent, I don’t believe the government has any business putting them to death. To this point, I’ve heard many people say that we’ve gotten “very good” at determining guilt thanks to DNA testing and what not. I hear that… however, I’m sure that people in the 70s and 80s were sure they had the most advanced technology, too. And back then, they did– but as years passed, the technology advanced, and there have been recent cases of people who were put on death row being exonerated.

How does one apologize for a mistake like that? If they’re lucky, the innocent might get released from prison or at least put in a much less oppressive prison environment. If they’re not lucky, they’ll be executed. What do we say when that happens? “Oops? My bad!”

Another reason I don’t like the death penalty is because not only is it very expensive to implement, but it tends to give criminals a platform. Aside from that, many of the cases involving capital punishment are politically motivated. Some lawyer, judge, or politician wants to make a name for themselves, so they use a “tough on crime” stance to further their own careers. That’s not fair.

I know many people will ask, “What about the victims?” And I agree, the vast majority of murder cases are absolutely infuriating. I remember getting extremely wound up a few years ago over a case in North Carolina involving an elderly pastor and his wife, who was a college professor. Thieves broke into their home, robbed and beat the elderly couple, forced the wife to go to the bank and withdraw more money, then brought her back to the house. The pastor and his wife were tied up, then the criminals set their home on fire and left them to die. The pastor was able to escape, but his beloved wife perished. I was really angry about that case and I would not shed a tear if the men involved were executed. However, I also wouldn’t shed a tear if they spent the rest of their natural lives locked in a cell.

I believe that capital punishment damages more people than the person who is condemned. Most condemned criminals have families who will also suffer. There are also people involved in the actual process of executing prisoners who, no doubt, grapple with what they’re doing. Some of them don’t have a problem with executions, although I would submit that people who are that callous probably shouldn’t be involved with administering justice. I would hope that civilized people would want to see justice tempered with mercy.

And finally… regarding Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. I wrote about her yesterday. Someone commented that maybe it would be kinder to execute her, given her lifetime of mental illness, anguish, and pain. I was a bit taken aback by that comment. It’s one thing to administer a mercy killing on someone in great pain who asks for help dying. We all have to face eventual death, and sometimes it really is a kindness to help people die with grace and dignity. It’s quite another to observe the life of another person who has already been born and assume it would be kinder to kill them because you’ve judged their lives to be worthless. That’s getting a bit close to Nazi territory for me.

So– regarding abortion– I think it should stay safe and legal. I think women who are considering them should be encouraged to have them as early in a pregnancy as possible. That’s because developing fetuses are a part of their mother until they are born, and it’s her body, her life and health on the line, and her name on all of the medical bills. And I don’t think a person’s religious beliefs gives them the right to force another person to give birth.

Regarding capital punishment– I believe a person who is already born and has a concept of life and death is not the same as a developing fetus, who is unaware of what life and death are. We should never execute anyone unless there is absolutely zero doubt of their guilt and it’s a matter of public safety, rather than advancing someone’s political career or getting revenge.

So that’s how I can be “pro-life” and “anti death penalty”.

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