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Culture Of Life 101… “Can You Be Pro-Life And Support Capital Punishment?”

July 2, 2014 Featured Today No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of all Culture of Life 101 articles so far with footnotes, e-mail him at

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“If the deliberate extinguishment of human life has any effect at all, it more likely tends to lower our respect for life and brutalize our values” — Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, architect of Roe v. Wade, on capital punishment.

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Pro-abortionists sometimes link the issues of abortion and capital punishment in their debates, literature, and propaganda campaigns. Their goal is to try to make pro-life activists look inconsistent because we allegedly support the death penalty and therefore do not really value all human life. This is an extension of the tired old slogan that we only care for people until they’re born and then forget about them.
But the only scientific study ever performed on this topic showed that a much greater proportion of pro-abortionists support the death penalty than do pro-lifers. This means that pro-abortionists are being consistent, because they favor death for the born as well as the unborn, and for the guilty as well as for the innocent.
This study revealed that 26 percent of pro-lifers agreed that “capital punishment should never be used,” while only six percent of pro-abortionists agreed. Fifty-four percent of pro-lifers agreed that “capital punishment should be used for a heinous crime,” while a whopping 83 percent of pro-abortionists agreed. And, most revealingly, only eight percent of pro-lifers answered that they would be an executioner, while 22 percent of pro-abortionists said that they would.
Since 1936, Gallup polls have shown that a solid majority of Americans favor the death penalty for murder. Republicans favor the death penalty more often than Democrats, but activist pro-lifers oppose it more frequently than pro-abortionists. The systemic hypocrisy of pro-abortion leaders becomes glaringly evident here; they claim that a majority of Americans are “pro-choice,” so abortion should remain legal. But even though a consistently large majority of Americans favor the death penalty, pro-abortionists say that it should be abolished.
Gallup polls have also shown that 65 percent of people who attend church weekly support the death penalty, while 71 percent of the people who never set foot inside a church support it. Not surprisingly, practicing Catholics are much more likely to oppose capital punishment than non-practicing Catholics, by a margin of 37 to 23 percent.
Some pro-abortion propagandists try to peddle the myth that most pro-lifers are “eye for an eye”-type Old Testament Christians, but only about three to five percent of Americans mention the Bible as a justification for the death penalty.
Repeated extensive surveys show pro-lifers in general are more concerned about all of the major social issues — child abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, homelessness, hunger, racism, and even overpopulation — than pro-abortionists.
Some of the most radical activist pro-abortionists claim to be against capital punishment, claiming that it should never be used. But, of course, they have their exceptions. When Paul Hill went on trial for the murder of John Britton and James Barrett, many pro-abortionists vocally demanded his execution. The same occurred when Eric Rudolph went on trial for the Olympic Park and abortion mill bombings in 2005.
And Lynne Slepian, widow of murdered abortionist Barnett Slepian, said that his killer James Kopp should not only be executed, but tortured as well: “I’d like to see him dead, but I don’t want him to have the luxury of having a quick, painless death. I’d like to see a slow, painful death. Lethal injection is too good for him.”
The hypocrisy does not end there. The same people who push so hard for abortion and euthanasia under the rationale that people ought to be able to “control their own bodies” vigorously oppose even the execution of those few inmates who want to be put to death.
Vivid contrasts between the death penalty and abortion: To begin with, the preborn baby has committed no harm against anyone, while those who receive the death penalty have been convicted of the most heinous of crimes — often under aggravating circumstances such as extreme sadism or torture. Some may argue that the preborn baby commits harm against the mother just by existing, but this heartless argument completely neglects the fact that the intent to harm is not present.
Second, the murderer has been tried by a jury with a judge presiding, and has an attorney defending him. There are always multiple automatic appeals in a capital case. But the preborn has no jury, no judge, no attorney, and has not even been charged with a crime. He is simply sentenced to death by the mother (or others forcing her to have the abortion), and the abortionist carries out the execution, which is always cruel and unusual.
The execution of a killer is a matter of utmost gravity. It is true that some innocent people have been executed, but it is also true that the judicial system has expended great efforts in discerning his guilt. On the other hand, almost all abortions are committed for economic or social reasons. If we applied the same philosophy toward crime, all of our jails would be empty, because the death penalty would be automatically applied to such petty crimes as larceny and littering.
After considering these differences, can anyone say that abortion is the lesser wrong or the more just alternative? And what kind of person would have more sympathy for a murderer convicted under aggravating circumstances than for an innocent child?
We should ask a person holding such views if they would accept a deal: an absolute ban on capital punishment in exchange for an absolute ban on abortion. A pro-abortionist will always refuse such a deal, showing that pro-aborts care much more about their own convenience than they do for the very lives of the murderers they claim to care so much about.

Pope St. John Paul II

Church teaching on capital punishment: Pro-abortionists would have the public believe that pro-lifers in particular and Christians in general are monsters who demand the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes. In reality, the Catholic Church teaches that nobody has the right to take the life of an innocent person, whether it be by act of war, capital punishment, or abortion. However, if a murderous aggressor simply cannot be deterred from his or her activities, the state has the right to carry out the death penalty.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor” (n. 2267).
Pope St. John Paul II emphasized that the death penalty should be used very sparingly indeed, and even then in the most extreme cases:
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm — without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself — the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent’” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 56).
Some people from ersatz “religious” pro-abortion groups like Catholics for (a Free) Choice and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice claim that abortion is permissible because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. These same people are also mostly opposed to capital punishment of guilty murderers, but seem to ignore the fact that the Bible has many passages supporting the practice.
This inconsistency is entirely typical of pro-abortionists: They lean on the Bible only when it allegedly supports their position, but unhesitatingly reject it when it condemns their activities or does not agree with them.

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