Abortion and the Death Penalty: Is There Any Consistency to a Pro-Life Position?

English: Total number of executions carried ou...
Number of death penalty executions in the USA since 1960 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The charge is often leveled that Pro-life Christians are inconsistent in their position on protecting the sanctity of human life. On the one hand, Pro-lifers are quick to pronounce a “fetus” a human life worthy of protection, while, on the other hand, they will pronounce a murderer worthy of death and say that the state should kill him. Is there any consistency to this Pro-life argument? How can one be opposed to killing and for killing at the same time? Is this not a contradiction?


Matters of human life (whether the human is in a womb or in a prison cell) are grave matters indeed. Those who are Pro-life should respect all human life. This respect for life, however, does not mean that there is never a time when another human being should be put to death. The Pro-life position is not a position that denies the right to kill. Rather, it denies the right to kill unjustly. Or, to put the matter another way, it denies the right to kill an innocent human being.


This statement is no cop out or contradiction. It reflects what used to be common sense wisdom applied to matters of utmost importance. No human being has the right to take an innocent life. Our legal system still reflects this common sense wisdom in two distinct ways. First, there is the presumption of innocence. One can be accused of a crime, but he is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. This is an important presumption because it protects us from hasty revenge. If, for instance, you believe that a person ran over your girlfriend, you are not free to go out on the basis of your belief and kill that person–that would be taking an innocent life. There must first be a trial in which the person is proved guilty of his crime. Then, justice may well demand the death penalty–carried out by appropriate, governing authorities.


The second reflection of common sense in our legal structure is the notion of punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent. We have crimes against kidnapping, for example. And we enforce codes in maternity wards and daycare facilities to protect babies from being kidnapped.  These measures reflect the common sense reality that laws and authorities ought to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.


With these common sense realities in place, we ought to be able to see that it is not the Pro-life position which lives in a make-believe world of gross contradiction. Rather, it is the Pro-choice position which turns common sense on its head and, literally, asks that we kill the innocent and protect the guilty. The death penalty is reserved for those who have killed and have been proven guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.  They are not innocent. They are guilty.


Abortion, on the other hand, targets the most innocent and most helpless form of human life.  What has the child in the womb done to deserve such an early death? How could one possibly argue against the death penalty and for abortion? Before the dreadful Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, courts had consistently held that babies in the womb had inheritance rights of their fathers (if, for instance, the father died before the child was born).  That makes sense.


In addition, courts ruled in Union Pacific Railway Co. v. Botsford that women must be examined for pregnancy before being executed  “in order to guard against the taking of the life of an unborn child for the crime of the mother.”  As this post from American Right to Life notes, this ruling makes perfectly good sense. A child should not be punished (by death) for the crimes committed by his mother.


Indeed, all of this common sense legal reality has foundation in Scripture.  Moses long ago established this form of justice for the people of Israel. As he wr0te in Deuteronomy 24:16,


Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.”


So, in my opinion, the Pro-life position is the consistent position. Whoever is proved to have shed man’s blood, then by man his blood shall be shed because he (or she) is no longer innocent, but guilty of murder. Punish the guilty. On the flip side, whoever has done nothing wrong is innocent. Protect the innocent. And who has a better claim to innocence than a baby in the womb?



2 thoughts on “Abortion and the Death Penalty: Is There Any Consistency to a Pro-Life Position?

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  1. I can certainly see both sides to this question, and at different times in my life I’ve been in support of the opposite position to the one I hold today. The first aspect of this conflict is one of specificity in rhetoric. Using labels like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” (or any other pro / anti dichotomies) is to some extent untruthful and intentionally misleading. These terms don’t accurately explain what those groups are supporting or opposing. So I try to avoid using any of them, and instead seek opportunities for deeper exchange of ideas with whoever I’m trying to communicate with. Labeling leads to misunderstanding. For example, if I begin a conversation with “I’m a Christian” (which is true), I’ve already lost part of my listener’s attention and created a barrier to address, because some will immediately assume that means I am also conservative, “pro-life” and evangelical, none of which are true.

    A core part of who I am, one that I believe is shared with most people I converse with, is a person still seeking answers, still in doubt, and in process. I’m still growing and changing, and my opinions might change as I experience more of life. If we can start with that as common ground, we have a basis for presenting our current positions, accepting them in each other from an understanding that “this is where I am now”, not knowing entirely what the future will hold. This mutual acceptance reduces the need for either party to establish which is “right” or “wrong”. We can share in order to learn, to better understand each other and ourselves.

    So without really explaining the reasons for my difference of opinion with you, that’s the difference in how I would approach discussing it with you in detail. Peace 🙂


  2. The way I have explained the consistency of pro-lifers (though not all) being sometimes also accepting the death penalty for the worst crimes is to say “I think all serial-killer prenatal babies should be put to death after a fair trial”.

    The death penalty has had its legitimate place in history (the laws of Moses for example), but my view after so many death-penalty cases turned upside down with time and DNA, is to oppose it. Government powers turn the nicest people into such abusers sometimes (Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely), and purported utopia-engineers are the worst. Even the laws of Moses made no provision AT ALL for even one full-time government person, so accusers and accused had the same resources available….


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