Editor’s Note: Jay Parini, who teaches at Middlebury College, has just recorded “Jesus, Paul and the Early Christians” and published “The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday signed into law an extreme abortion ban, citing “Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”
She has also presided over the state sanctioned killings of six people under Alabama’s death penalty law since she assumed office in 2017. That year, she signed the ironically named “Fair Justice Act,” an Orwellian edict that cuts short the appeals process for those who have been condemned to die by the state.
The anti-abortion movement raises a question about capital punishment that must be answered. If the 25 white men who voted in the Alabama senate for a near-total ban on abortion were really serious about the “right to life,” would they not have simultaneously banned capital punishment? The death penalty is a clear violation of this right, as Pope Francis himself has recently argued.
Only last year the pontiff confirmed that the “death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” The new Catechism of the church says that “in the light of the Gospel” all Catholics must work “with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
Are you listening, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas? Each of you is a Catholic. What about you, Neil Gorsuch? You were raised a Catholic and now attend the Episcopal Church, which has opposed the death penalty for half a century.
If it’s time to tighten the ban on abortions, it’s also time to get rid of capital punishment once and for all. It’s a genuine abomination that flies in the face of human dignity.
Is it not deeply ironic that the seven states that have passed tighter abortion laws are also actively open to killing live human beings by lethal injection or electrocution? Among these, in addition to Alabama, are Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas and Ohio. And laws restricting abortions have passed one legislative chamber in Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee – all death penalty states .
Texas is one of the worst offenders when it comes to executions, killing 560 people since 1982. When Rick Perry was governor, 279 people were executed by the state. Only last year, 13 prisoners were put to death in Texas.
And yet the Texas Senate earlier this month passed a “pro-life” bill that severely restricts abortions – even a fetus with “severe and irreversible” abnormalities is not exempted. And doctors who perform abortions would risk criminal prosecution (the proposed law is headed to a House committee now). Even worse, a recently introduced bill in Texas would have opened up the possibility of putting women to death for having an abortion! (It failed in the House.)
And Alabama’s Ivey? It’s safe to say that those on death row in Alabama (a very long row, with 177 seats at present) will not find compassion from this so-called “pro-life” governor. Witness that on Thursday, only a day after Ivey signed the abortion ban, she declined Michael Brandon Samra, a man convicted of killing four people, a reprieve from execution by lethal injection.
Ivey still has an opportunity to grant an appeal for clemency to Rocky Myers, a 53-year old man with a severe intellectual disability who was, according the American Civil Liberties Union, served by an incompetent lawyer and convicted on the evidence of one eyewitness who has since recanted. The judge in this case imposed the death penalty against the wishes of the jury.
This is justice in Alabama.
Have we lost all sense of reason in this country?
The new abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia, and those being considered elsewhere, if enacted, will of course disproportionately affect poor and minority women, who will either be compelled to have babies irrespective of the circumstances of their conception, their ability to carry a live birth to term, or – most importantly – their desire to control their own reproductive lives. Alternatively, they will seek abortions, putting their medical providers at risk of incarceration. Or they may seek other methods of terminating their unwanted pregnancies, perhaps under unsafe conditions.
Similarly, the death penalty especially affects the poorest of the poor, particularly in the United States. “If you are poor, the chances of being sentenced to death are immensely higher than if you are rich,” says a report by the United Nations. “There could be no greater indictment of the death penalty than the fact that in practice it is really a penalty reserved for people from lower socio-economic groups. This turns it into a class-based form of discrimination in most countries, thus making it the equivalent of an arbitrary killing.”
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As a Christian, I value life in the deepest sense. In an ideal world, we would take care of human beings from the womb to the tomb. There is, needless to say, a complex debate about when life actually begins. And there is much to say for the quality of life after birth – and our society’s willingness to ensure it to all as a matter of policy – as being just as important as the ticking heartbeat.
The death penalty is another matter. It’s not up for debate, in my view, and those who do not see the connection between preserving the lives of fetuses and preserving the lives of adults should take a clear-eyed look at their consciences.
We don’t get to kill people. Period. It’s barbarous, inhumane, cruel, and – thank goodness – rare in most civilized countries.