Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Prolifers and the death penalty

    Q. Where do prolifers stand on the death penalty?

    A. It depends on the prolifer.

There is no unified stand on the death penalty among prolife activists. This is largely because many prolifers see the death penalty and abortion as being unrelated topics. As a former George Bush (the elder) campaign worker put it, "You show me an armed and aggressive fetus, and I'll discuss the relationship between abortion and the death penalty."

What we end up with is a broad spectrum of thought on the death penalty. At the "liberal" end of the spectrum are the "seamless garment" or "consistent life ethic" prolifers, who hold that any killing of a human being by other human beings is unacceptable. At the "conservative" end of the spectrum, we have people who actively support the death penalty as a means of protecting the lives of innocent members of the community from those who take it upon themselves to kill.

How are prolifers distributed along this spectrum? The high-profile individuals -- here I'm thinking of politicians and conservative activists -- tend to be supporters of the death penalty. This gives the impression that prolife citizens tend to support the death penalty. But this impression is an illusion.

Support of abortion and support of the death penalty seem to be related. In the early 1960's, most Americans opposed both abortion and the death penalty. By 1982, after about a decade of unfettered abortion, public opposition to the death penalty had fallen to 27 percent -- except among hard-core prolifers. People who opposed all abortion also opposed the death penalty by 45 percent. In other words, prolifers were nearly twice as likely as the general public to oppose capital punishment. People who supported unfettered abortion were the least likely to oppose capital punishment, with only 21 percent opposing the death penalty.

What the polls seem to show is that people tend to either embrace or reject killing as a way of solving problems. Those who reject abortion also tend to reject the death penalty. Those who support abortion also tend to support the death penalty.

Conservative organizations that take a stand on a variety of issues often oppose abortion and support the death penalty. But organizations that exist primarily to address abortion either take a stand against the death penalty ("consistent life ethic" groups), or take no stand at all. Indeed, for a group primarily focused on preventing abortion to take a stand on the death penalty would be a divisive move, since either supporting or opposing the death penalty would alienate about half of all prospective members.

So where do prolifers stand on the death penalty? About 45 percent opposed.

Statistics taken from Are abortion opponents becoming less likely to support capital punishment?

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