The pro-life movement has been going strong since the 1970’s.
It hangs its hat on the tenet that life begins at conception, and that life has innate value from that point on and is therefore entitled to all the human rights we believe occur in natural order.
I strongly oppose abortion for many reasons: babies have survived outside the womb at 22 weeks, which is well within the period of lawful abortions in most states; some studies have shown that gender and a heartbeat can be detected at 12 weeks, and that at 16 weeks the fetus has toes and fingernails and can blink.
However, while I am adamantly against abortion, I also have many critiques of the pro-life movement — one of them being its silence on the death penalty.
If life begins at conception, and that life is entitled to human rights from that point forward, at what point does it end? What has to happen for the value of that life to be removed or for those God-given human rights to be stripped away?
If the principle of the pro-life movement is that all life has value and that life should be honored from the moment of conception through the moment of natural death, as I believe, then the movement would really be onto something.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, the movement loses its footing after birth and fails to apply this value consistently throughout the lifespan of a person. A glaring inconsistency that does not go unnoticed by those they are trying to convince.
Never is this hypocrisy more apparent than when it comes to the death penalty. So often, the most ardent of pro-lifers are also champions for the death penalty, leading to a real crisis of conscience within the movement that must be addressed.
A consistent worldview would hold that all human life has value throughout every phase. To take that a step further, as a Christian I believe that all life has inherent value that cannot be won or lost by anything we do, but rather that is based on all being created in the image of God.
I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t be held accountable for wrongdoing. They absolutely should, and a person who has proven to be an ongoing threat to others should be separated from those they might harm. But we have more than enough mechanisms for carrying that out without the death penalty.
To recognize that a person maintains their human value, even after they’ve committed violence, would be a truly revolutionary evolvement for a society. To instill this belief in our culture would be a huge step forward in steering how we see other humans and their worth.
Instead, it is much more common to see that previously mentioned inconsistency: that life is something to be protected only when it is innocent (an argument I often hear when I point out this discrepancy in the pro-life viewpoint). Not only do I think this argument cheapens the pro-life debate, I also know it to be another fallacy.
First and foremost, there are countless innocent people caught up in the criminal justice system, and certainly on death rows. To date, one person has been exonerated from death row for every ten executions. You cannot buttress your belief in capital punishment with the reasoning that you only think innocent life should be protected.
There’s also a disconnect in thinking that babies and young children should be protected from harm, but then disregarding the consequences when they are not. The vast majority of people who commit harm were first victimized numerous times — often as children — before they became violent.
The reality is most people do not wake up and become violent one day. And while that fact, again, does not mean people who commit violence shouldn’t be held accountable, it does mean we need to approach the problem with much more nuance and empathy. It isn’t a black and white problem and neither is the solution.
You cannot say you care about the lives of young children and want to protect them from harm, and then believe they should be executed when they are harmed and end up perpetuating the cycle of violence.
For me, being pro-life means grappling with these very difficult issues that stem from holding a consistent viewpoint. But that’s mud worth pushing through. If the pro-life movement wants to gain ground, it must begin by expanding the ground it is fighting for.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.