I was recently discussing abortion with Debbi, who is "pro-choice." At one point she asked me, "Are you against the death penalty?" Now usually, a let's-change-the-subject tactic like this should be handled by gently returning to the current subject of the conversation. But in this case I took a different approach.
"Oh yes," I said, "I am very much opposed to the death penalty, as is our Priests for Life organization. I preach against it frequently." "I see," Debbi said. I continued, "Yes, you know, the death penalty is bad for a number of reasons. One reason is that it simply feeds into the notion that you can solve the problems of a society by putting people to death." "That's right," Debbi agreed. I went on to say, "We need to find better solutions than just pushing another person out of the way when they present a problem. Human problems demand humane solutions, and killing is not one of them."
Little did Debbi seem to realize, in the midst of this exchange, that I was presenting to her an argument that applies perfectly well to abortion.
There is, indeed, and important connection between abortion and the death penalty, and my pro-life work throughout the world has shown me that opponents of abortion are very likely to be opposed to the death penalty as well. Certainly, they are not identical issues. There's a big difference between a criminal and a perfectly innocent baby. Yet at the same time, the difference is not so great as to obscure the equal dignity of both. As John Paul II declared in Evangelium Vitae, "Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity."
While we use our full strength to abolish both abortion and capital punishment, it is also a healthy perspective to compare the statistics. Official statistics on executions in the United States have been recorded only since 1930 by the US Dept of Justice. The figures show there have been 4,381 executions from 1930 until February of this year. There were none in the 1968-1976 period. An historian named Watt Espy, director of the Capital Punishment Research Project in Headland, Alabama, has traced the history of the death penalty. In a work published in 1994, he estimated that 18,645 executions had taken place since the early 1600s in what is now the United States. If you add the 265 that have occurred from 1995 until now, you come up with a figure of 18,910.
Turning to abortion, the website of the Alan Guttmacher Institute (which is strongly pro-abortion) reports that in 1996 alone there were 1.37 million abortions just in the United States. That's 3753 per day, one every 23 seconds. In other words, the total number of deaths by capital punishment, for our entire history, is less than the number of deaths by abortion every five days.
God bless all who fight the death penalty; God bless all who fight abortion. Let's work together, convinced that even one death, whether by abortion or capital punishment, is one too many.