Death penalty and abortion

In loving memory of the innocent victims of abortion
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Barack Obama opposes capital punishment. Yet he voted against legislation that would put an end to full-birth abortion.  Full-birth abortion means nothing less than “kill the baby”—inflicting capital punishment not on the guilty but on the innocent! Hence, I am prompted to republish an article I wrote three decades ago.  The reader should bear in mind however, that wherever the article refers to the “unborn child,” today we must add the “born but unwanted child.”

In the Mishna we read: “Therefore but a single man was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single soul to perish, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish; and if any man saves alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had saved alive a whole world.”

Abortion as summary execution

A "therapeutic abortion," under dubious clinical circumstances

Doctors removed this 10-week unborn child after the mother was found to have carcinoma in situ of the cervix. Photo: User “drsuparma” on flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License

To avoid misunderstanding, let me state at the outset that, except in extreme cases, I do not advocate capital punishment in Israel at this time.  Nor do I regard as correct the Catholic view of abortion.  But there is something very curious about the liberal position on these two issues, especially by liberals who advocate the American practice of “abortion on demand.”

Among the arguments against capital punishment is the contention that society has no right to take the life even of the most savage murderer.  Yet many if not most opponents of capital punishment assert the right of a woman, six and even more months pregnant, to snuff out, with the aid of a physician, the life of her unborn child.  Murderers would thus be spared while the innocent would be murdered.

We have become “humane” and “progressive.”  For now we feel compassion, perhaps some responsibility, for those who have taken life, not for those who have just begun to live.  Without a twinge of moral doubt or remorse we execute the unborn and condemn as cruel and barbaric the execution of murderers.

That capital punishment should be called cruel and barbaric by its opponents is a nice commentary on our forefathers.  Meanwhile, their humane descendants each year execute countless unborn babies whose only crime was to be unwanted.

Due process of law

An individual accused of murder receives due process of law.  He is provided legal counsel to defend him, witnesses to testify on his behalf.  In the United States, a jury of twelve persons is empanelled to hear and weigh evidence bearing on his guilt or innocence.  Let only one member of that jury harbor a reasonable doubt as to his guilt and the accused is acquitted, his life spared.

Compare the plight of the unwanted, unborn child.  He is utterly abandoned.  Society affords him no defense, no legal counsel or friendly witness.  Yet the life of the unborn child is on trial.  He is on trial for being an inconvenient “fetus.”  But we too are on trial, on trial in the courtroom of indifference called the “humane” and “progressive” society.  We are not only spectators; we are also the jury.  And we have been instructed by judges.  They have told us that this unborn child is not a human being—which we are all the more ready to believe having been taught to regard it as a mere “fetus.”

Had we not been thus instructed, had we only harbored a reasonable doubt on this life and death issue, we would have acquitted the child rather than become his executioners.  Only a reasonable doubt, nothing more than this, and we would have affirmed the child’s as well as our own humanity.

Liberal advocates of abortion intone the idea that a person has the right to control his or her own body.  Some derive this right from British common law.  To stretch the common law to justify “abortion on demand” is rather ironic.  For the common law prohibited the arbitrary control of another person’s body and regarded a “fetus” as a “person”!  This being so, it was impermissible to execute a pregnant murderess.   But this is not the only irony.

Abortion violates motherhood

The idea of “abortion on demand” actually violates the very nature of a woman’s body and the essence of motherhood.  This can best be seen by reflecting on the Hebrew word for a woman’s womb—rechem.  One cognate of the word means to feel pity or pain at another’s suffering.  Another is to feel joy at another’s happiness.  Who feels more pain than a mother when her child is ill, or more joy when her child is well and successful.  But this is not all.

The mother’s body nourishes the child in her womb.  She gives of her own life’s substance to the child, a giving that signifies her selflessness.  The very opposite character trait underlies “abortion on demand.”

The laws of our supposedly barbaric forefathers prohibited abortion unless the mother’s life was in danger.  Many of our forefathers were doctors.  Today many doctors, having added abortions to their repertoire of services, have also multiplied their yearly earnings.  Because of this vested interest, the medical profession has become one of the principal supporters of abortion.

Death penalty under Jewish law

As for capital punishment, consider a few aspects of Judaic law on the subject.  First, neither circumstantial evidence nor the confession of the accused is admissible in court.  Second, the murder had to be witnessed by two eligible persons, and they had to warn the would-be murderer of the consequences of his intended crime.  For to be culpable, the malefactor had to be sane, and the act of murder had to be deliberate.  These qualifications made conviction for capital punishment exceedingly rare.

Clearly, these laws governing capital punishment do not depreciate the value of human life.  To the contrary. Precisely because human life is sacred, those laws require the execution of convicted murderers, of those whose act of murder was itself a denial that human life is sacred.

By taking the life of a human being the murderer negates his own humanity; he reduces himself to the level of the beast.  And it is more as a beast, homo lupus, than as homo civilis, that the murderer, after being duly tried and convicted, is executed. Imposing upon him the extreme penalty of death does not deny his humanity so much as it affirms the humanity or dignity of his victim.  Perhaps, in the last analysis, the punishment of death is a profound public affirmation of the sanctity of life.

But these thoughts are not intended as a defense of capital punishment, else far more would have to be said on the subject. Let them rather stand as an argument against capital punishment: the capital punishment tolerated under the name of “abortion on demand” or its equivalent. If capital punishment is opposed on the ground that human life is so precious that even the life of the most vicious murderer must be spared, do we not cheapen life by the wholesale destruction of countless unborn children?  Is the murderer more human than the unborn child?

One last word.  In Alex Haley’s celebrated book, Roots, Omoro, one of the principal characters, tries to explain life and death to young Kunta Kinte: “He said that three groups of people lived in every village. First were those you could see walking around, eating, sleeping, and working.  Second were the ancestors, whom Grandma Yaisa had now joined.” “And the third people—who are they?” asked Kunta.

“The third people,” said Omoro, “are those waiting to be born.”□

15 Responses to Death penalty and abortion

  1. tex_rich says:

    Given that it has been confirmed that innocent people have been murdered by capital punishment, one is a complete hypocrite to then support capital punishment yet oppose abortion at any stage. Ironically, this posting makes the opposite argument but does not seem to realize the hypocrisy in the author’s support of capital punishment. Complete hypocrite.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Then you did not read the article carefully enough. The author described the ultra-strict criteria for a conviction on a first-degree murder charge under Jewish law. That should protect well enough against the hazard you cite.

  2. tex_rich says:

    Nope, I read the entire article. I seems that you agree with the author and many pro-choice people: “protect well enough” against killing an innocent human. Much as you would claim the only way to protect unborn fetuses is to eliminate abortion (after all, how do we know if the fetus as a heart heart, feels pain, has thoughts, etc.), the only way to protect the innocent on death row is to ELIMINATE the death penalty. It find it very interesting and hypocritical that you adopt the “protect well enough” standard for humans who are already born, while you maintain a much higher bar for those who are unborn. Complete hypocrite as well.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Except we do have ways of keeping people off death row. Edward Southern gave us those ways. (The first DNA tests are properly called Southern Blots, in his honor.)

      And even so: I reject your premise that those who led lives that led them to “assist the police in their inquiries” are the moral equivalent of unborn children. I challenge you to find [i]one[/i] person who landed on Death Row totally, completely, and absolutely through no fault of his own.

  3. tex_rich says:

    Firstly, I’m pretty sure Jesus would not support the killing of a man for murder if he is INNOCENT of committing murder – it is DOCUMENTED that this occurs on death row. Secondly, I am familiar with your opinion, though, that murdering someone simply involved with or around crime is not a big deal – this is a familiar and insanely hypocritical position of many conservatives against abortion. I also understand, in your opinion, that a zygote “baby” should be protected at all costs while a COMPLETELY innocent sperm “half baby” is expendable. Literally countless sperm are murdered each day as part of hedonistic masturbation around the globe – this murderous men must be held accountable! This is deliberate genocide of countless half babies, yet conservatives inexplicably stay silent on this issue. When will someone give a voice to innocent sperm half babies?! They are (half) babies too!

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      I would suggest that your opinion of casually throwing away a zygote is far more problematic than mine ever could be. At least I deal here with adults! Who, of their own volition, got involved in something they shouldn’t have.

      What say you to the family of the second victim of a serial murderer–who, having been apprehended, escaped from prison and did it again?

  4. tex_rich says:

    Convenient that you did not address my point at all: do you feel sperm should be protected in the same way a zygote be protected. If not, why? Please answer this first. Also, unless you plan on executing an alleged murder the moment he/she is apprehended (yeah, that sounds like due process…), then there is always a possibility that any inmate – on death row or otherwise – escape. Given that the average time on death row is 15 years, which occurs when the inmate is most able-bodied and capable of escaping (i.e., at the earliest point of incarceration), capital punishment does nothing to address your concern. If your argument is that an inmate should be murdered because there is a chance he/she will later commit murder, then one could make the same RIDICULOUS argument in support of abortion, as all fetuses have a quantifiable chance of later committing murder.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Actually, sperm and eggs do not qualify. It takes fertilization to produce a unique person. I should know: I studied embryology in medical school.

      The only time a summary execution might be justifiable or even excusable is “in time of war or other public danger.” See the Fifth Amendment, that allows an exception to having to go to a grand jury for a capital indictment in wartime.

      I would reserve the death penalty for one crime only: murder in the first degree. The kind that takes planning ahead of time.

      You’re probably raising a practical theory – that beyond the “prime of one’s life,” one originally having a motive for the serial murder of women (or any other “type”) would lose opportunity and means, if not motive, after long confinement.

      But now you have to clarify something. Do you support a “right to kill” in the case of an unborn child, or do you not? Most leftists would let a murderer go free and kill an unborn child on a whim. That’s the package deal. The mold. If you break that mold, please say so.

  5. tex_rich says:

    Hmm…perhaps you studied GESTATION in the same class, which is required of a zygote to produce a human (uniqueness should not matter – I’m guessing identical twins are not exempt from your “logic”). Otherwise, the initial formation of a zygote is simply the combination of a sperm and an egg – no heartbeat, no feeling of pain, no kicking or any of the other classic hallmarks that conservatives like to cite for the existence of “life.” A sperm and egg require insemination and gestation to form a person, while a zygote only requires gestation. Additionally, the moment before and moment after insemination a sperm + egg = a zygote. It is not consistent to support the murder of sperm, eggs, and innocent ALLEGED murders while vehemently protecting zygotes, which are simply – at their initial formation – just the combination of a sperm and an egg. I support abortion in specific cases, which, unlike capital punishment, is not legally considered homicide.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Psalm 139:13-16 makes abundantly clear that it’s still a life, whether one cell or trillions upon trillions.

      Don’t tell me what is legally considered such-a-thing. I work on what ought to be legally considered whatever.

  6. tex_rich says:

    Well, as an atheist, I could care less what one thinks the Bible says. Luckily, the constitution dictates that laws in the United States must be based on secular rationale.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      And of course, as an atheist you have no foundation for morality. Morality becomes, at best, your choice. So you choose to kill unborn children, or let others kill them, when convenient. What, aside from your choice, stops you from killing already-born children, or any adult who annoys you?

  7. tex_rich says:

    I love how some Christians – those who make this argument – seem to be homicidal maniacs deep down. You must have a lot of pent up anger if the only thing stopping you from killing people constantly are your Christian ideals. Morality certainly exists in the absence of religion. In fact, it has had to exist since the advent of society and a social contract. Which, believe it or not, existed long before Christianity ;) But much like Christianity, which provides the ultimate in selfish motivations (i.e., going to heaven), social morality is likely also driven by selfishness (or self-preservation). Living within the confines of a social contract (i.e., a moral code) general means my life is safer (i.e., I don’t really have to worry about someone killing me) and more enjoyable (i.e., being a “good” person is positively reinforced by others in society). So I generally am “good” for the selfish reason that I enjoy my life more if I am, while Christians are for a similar reason in addition to the selfish expectations that doing so will also provide them with eternal bliss once they die (i.e., heaven). So morality is generally not a conscious choice for me – I tend to do “good” things (probably because subconsciously I know it will benefit society, and ultimately me). So I think you were probably born with this inclination too (or at least I hope you were), much the same way you were born gay, straight, or somewhere in between. I also have never understood how Christians feel this is a choice either.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Oh? Do you really think you can give me an objective, larger-than-you reason why you would not kill anyone without provocation?

      You can’t. You couldn’t in the four and a half billion years you insist is the age of the earth.

      At fifteen I became an evolutionist. And then it all became clear to me. We came from mud! And after three point eight billion years of evolution, at the core we’re still mud.

      Actor Danny DeVito, in The War of the Roses (directed by Danny DeVito, with Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito, Twentieth-century/Fox, 1989).

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