Capital punishment and the pro-life position: are they inconsistent?
“Me and Jenny goes together like peas and carrots.”
There are some things in life that go together like peas and carrots. It seems that you can’t have one without the other.
It would certainly be a stretch to say that support for capital punishment and opposition to abortion go together like peas and carrots. Nevertheless, it seems that a good many pro-lifers also support the death penalty.
Some pro-choice advocates have perceived an inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers. They argue that to oppose killing in one instance (abortion) and to support it in another (capital punishment) is hypocritical.
A full-fledged defense of capital punishment is beyond the scope of this article. But I will seek to demonstrate that there is no inconsistency in opposing abortion while supporting capital punishment. Allow me to make several observations:
1. Even if capital punishment is wrong, it doesn’t prove that abortion is somehow okay.
When some pro-abortion advocates point out to a pro-lifer his “hypocrisy” in supporting capital punishment, they frequently act as though no further debate is necessary. “You support killing,” they say, “so stay out of our wombs!”
However, let’s grant the pro-choice argument for a moment. Let’s suppose that we, as pro-lifers, are hypocritical for supporting capital punishment. What does it prove?
The answer is that it proves absolutely nothing!
It’s entirely possible that both abortion and capital punishment are wrong! Our supposed hypocrisy and inconsistency don’t take anything away from the evil of abortion. The capital punishment argument might demean the character of pro-lifers, but it doesn’t disprove any of our points.
2. There is a difference between killing and murder.
Since ancient times, cultures have recognized this critical distinction. For instance, nearly every civilized society in human history has had laws against first-degree murder. At the same time, civilized societies have also sent their young men off to war in order to protect themselves from enemies who would destroy their way of life.
It is true that one of the Ten Commandments enjoins, “Thou shalt not kill,” in Exodus 20:13. But in the very next chapter of Exodus, God demands, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death” (v.12). God Himself draws a distinction between the punishment of a criminal justice system on the one hand and the cold-blooded taking of another’s life on the other.
Additionally, the Hebrew word translated “kill” in the King James Version in Exodus 20:13 is more frequently translated, “murder.” The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon (the standard biblical Hebrew dictionary) notes that the word means, “murder, slay,” either with or without premeditation and intent. Given the Hebrew term’s wide range of usage and the context of Exodus, it is not likely that the deity is forbidding capital punishment in the Ten Commandments.
Abortion is not merely killing, but murder. It has nothing to do with criminal justice, nor does it relate to a country’s need to defend itself from invaders. Killing someone merely because he/she presents an inconvenience to one’s lifestyle can be nothing other than murder.
3. Fetuses are not afforded due process of law.
There can be no question that our criminal justice system is imperfect. Criminals sometimes go free; innocent men and women sometimes go to prison.
Nevertheless, in the U.S., suspected criminals are afforded due process of law. They are able to acquire the services of a defense attorney. They are permitted to present evidence of their innocence before an impartial jury. All members of the jury must agree to convict before a suspect can be punished. Our country operates on the principle that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than it is for one innocent man to be wrongly convicted.
A comparison between abortion and capital punishment is ultimately a comparison between apples and oranges. Capital punishment involves the execution of men and women who’ve been found guilty by an impartial jury of first-degree murder; abortion involves the senseless slaughter of innocent unborn children who have committed no crimes.
Our nation rightly takes extreme measures to safeguard the rights of suspected criminals. But while suspected criminals are afforded due process, innocent babies are permitted to die. This is anything but a fair comparison.
4. The real hypocrisy is on the part of pro-abortion advocates who oppose the death penalty.
The problem is not with a pro-lifer who supports capital punishment; it’s with a pro-choice person who opposes it. Essentially, a pro-abortion advocate is arguing, “I believe it’s inhumane to kill convicted murderers, but it’s humane to kill innocent babies.”
Certainly, good people may differ over whether capital punishment is the right approach for retribution. But it’s hypocrisy in the highest degree that we live in a nation that frequently treats its criminals better than its babies. There’s nothing noble in standing up for the rights of murderers while denying the rights of the unborn.
Final Note and Clarification
You may disagree with the death penalty. However, there’s nothing inconsistent about supporting capital punishment while opposing abortion.
Let me hasten to say that, as pro-life advocates, whatever we believe about capital punishment, it is the responsibility of the government to enact such a penalty, not that of private citizens. Yes, it is true that abortion is murder. However, the justness of capital punishment doesn’t justify violence against abortionists and their clinics.
We’re not vigilantes. We cannot act as self-appointed judges and juries against abortion doctors. We cannot return evil for evil. We must instead respond to evil with good and thereby provide a far greater rebuke to abortion than violence could ever accomplish.