On April 30th, Alabama State Representative John Rogers prompted a backlash when, speaking against a proposed anti-abortion bill, he said, “Some kids are unwanted, so you either kill them now or you kill them later. You bring them in the world unwanted, unloved, you send them to the electric chair.”
Conservatives, true to form, pounced on Rogers’s comments as a display of the moral untenability of the pro-abortion mindset. However, the connection he draws between abortion and the death penalty is not a false one. Conservatives who are rightly vigorous in support of life in the face of abortion ought to err on the side of life with regards to the death penalty as well. We need to see capital punishment as a life issue too.
One of the issues with opposing the death penalty is that it inevitably forces you to defend truly horrible people. I will be the first to admit that many of those who wait on death row are guilty of the most heinous crimes. I’ll be honest and say that I will lose no sleep over the executions of the Charleston Church Shooter or the Boston Marathon Bombers.
However, one can acknowledge these realities while also recognizing the death penalty is immoral and unnecessary. Most of those who have been or will be executed will never repent. But some will, and that chance should remain available to them.
An example is Kelly Gissendaner. In 1997, when she was 29 year old Kelly approached a man named Gregory Owens looking for a way to get rid of her husband Douglas. Some time later, Owens drove Douglas to a park, stabbed him, and then he and Kelly set fire to the car and hid the body. The next year, Kelly was sentanced to death for orchestrating the murder of her husband.
It is a sickening crime and Kelly’s guilt was never in question, but, while she waited on death row, she converted to Christianity, completed a theology program for prison inmates through Emory University and began doing ministry among the women she was in prison with. Until finally on September 2015, as she sang Amazing Grace, Kelly Gissendaner was executed.
The heart of the pro-life argument is that all human life is inherently precious and should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Abortion, as 99% of the time the product of consensual action leading to the creation of an independent and innocent human being, fails this test.
It is hard to see why capital punishment should. Executions are not absolutely necessary. It precludes any chance for redemption or understanding. Our prison system is successfully able to remove criminals from society for however long is necessary. As for the argument that the death penalty is a deterrent, a study of police chiefs found that less than a third of them said that insufficient use of the death penalty was a major problem area, lower than drug abuse and large numbers of guns. As more states phase out the death penalty, it’s not followed by upticks in crime.
The lack of necessity is exemplified by the fact executions are so rare. Since 1980, there have usually been between fifteen and twenty thousand murders each year in America, and between eighty and one hundred thousand rapes. But since 1976, no more than 315 people have been sentenced to death in a single year and only about 1,400 have been executed over that time frame. If the death penalty really was a useful way of fighting crime, one would think it would be used more.
Ultimately, the argument for capital punishment rests on the notion of justice. Some crimes, particularly rape and murder, are so egregious, the only way justice can be served is by taking the life of the guilty person. The problem with this argument is that it is less of an argument and more of a sentiment. At any rate, executing a 47 year old woman singing Amazing Grace who has repented on her sins for a crime she committed almost two decades prior hardly seems like justice. The idea that a culture of life must be built on the taking of life is absurd.
Moreover, since 1976 until 2015, roughly 1,400 people have been executed. From 1973 until 2015, 148 people on death row have later been exonerated, and the ACLU estimates that one in every twenty-five people sentenced to death are innocent. When life is at stake, that is simply unacceptable.
The heart of the pro-life argument is a beautiful hope in the potential of every human life. There is no reason why that argument extends to the unborn and not those on death row.
17 states have formally abolished the death penalty and 11 others have ended the practice in all but statue. That number ought to be 50, and pro-lifers should be leading the charge.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.