Every January, like clockwork, I receive at least one communication from someone who has heard about Anglicans for Life and wants to get involved with the ministry, but for the fact that we do not take a position against capital punishment. This year I have received four inquiries! They question the consistency and validity of our “pro-life” values because we do not take a stand against capital punishment. You can read our position concerning capital punishment on our website.
I typically explain that the AFL Board of Directors has never had a consensus on the topic, and this reality is also reflected in the general pro-life demographic nationwide. My informal poll of people who are actively working to end abortion finds about 25% do not support capital punishment, while about 75% do.
People who are against capital punishment question those who believe abortion is wrong yet say it is okay to kill a person found guilty of a heinous crime; those who support capital punishment hold that it is a valid punishment when someone is found guilty of murdering another human being. Those against capital punishment declare that those who support capital punishment but oppose abortion are hypocrites. However, folks on the other side of the issue ask why they aren’t calling out those who stand against capital punishment but support abortion? Isn’t this position equally hypocritical?
I can see both sides of the argument but for one fact; I have taken the life of a human being (my aborted baby) and as a murderer, I am grateful every day that God has forgiven me, and that I did not get the punishment I deserved. I hope every person guilty of any crime, but especially murder, is given the same opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness. I also struggle with this – the person whose job it is to administer the lethal injection is by their very action now also a murderer. I do not want that job, and I do not think it is fair for society to validate that job description and expect someone to do it.
Because of the number of inquiries this year, it seemed a good time to dig deeper into this issue. I did some research into the actual numbers of people involved in capital punishment and abortion and here is what I found:
Capital Punishment Data
An article on USAFacts.org reports that
The federal government hadn’t executed an inmate since 2003. That changed in July 2020 with the execution of 47-year-old Daniel Lewis Lee, a former white supremacist charged in the 1996 murders of a family of three. Lee’s death marked the first federal execution in 17 years. There have since been nine additional executions in 2020 and one in 2021, most recently that of Lisa Montgomery in January.
The article on USAFacts.org goes on to report:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that there were 61 federal prisoners with death sentences in December 2018, the latest year available. The federal government has executed fourteen prisoners since 1977: two in 2001, one in 2003, 10 in 2020, and one so far in 2021.
In contrast, states had 2,567 prisoners on death row at the end of 2018. Between 1977 and 2018, there were 1,490 executions in 34 states. Texas accounted for 37% of all executions in this period. California had 736 people on death row in 2018, more than any other state. However, it has executed 13 people since 1977, most recently in 2006.
All the federal executions completed in 2020 followed a single-drug lethal injection format that relied on pentobarbital. This is the process used by Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, three states that ranked in the top six in executions between 1977 and 2018.
In 1973, two Supreme Court cases, Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, were used by the Supreme Court to declare that the Constitution included the right for women to abort their children throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The website CheckYourFact.com reports that from 1973 through 2018, there have been roughly 60 million abortions in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 619,591 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas in 2018. (The 49 areas that reported to CDC for 2018 excluded California, Maryland, and New Hampshire.)
As someone who believes all life is sacred, all of these numbers represent human beings created in God’s image with purpose, value, and worthy of communion with their Creator. But do the numbers make one issue more critical than the other?
To be consistent in trying to compare the lives lost, I went back and discovered I couldn’t find data on capital punishment from 1973. As per the USAFacts.org article:
The 1972 Furman v. Georgia Supreme Court ruling effectively banned the death penalty under existing state and federal sentencing guidelines, leading to procedural reform nationwide. A set of Supreme Court cases in 1976 determined that Georgia, Texas, and Florida had made suitable revisions for the death penalty to no longer be “cruel and unusual,” opening a path for executions to resume in 1977.
This means from 1973 to 1977, there were zero executions. Hence it is fair to say that from 1973 to 2018, when we combine Federal and State executions, there were 1,493 executions in total, because we cannot include the eleven deaths in the years 2020 and 2021, as we do not have the abortion data for those years.
As noted above, from 1973 to 2018, there were 60 million babies aborted nationwide. 60 million babies died while 1,493 prisoners were executed. And while we know that the 60 million babies were innocent, we cannot know how many of the 1,493 executed were.
And according to the CheckYourFact.com website, when you breakdown the number of abortions occurring daily, the math shows that 2,537 babies die every day in the United States. That is over 1,000 more babies dying daily than the total number of prisoners executed over the last 45 years.
Method to Kill
The final piece of data that I found fascinating as I dug deeper into capital punishment is the methodology used to kill death-row prisoners. As noted above, deaths occurred using a single-drug lethal injection format that relied on pentobarbital.
While there is great concern related to the use of the lethal injection for these inmates, we also must recognize that more than a dozen countries, including our Canadian neighbors, are now using lethal injections to prematurely end the lives of patients through a method of euthanasia they call Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD). In the United States, 4,949 people have died from assisted suicide (81,000 worldwide) from 1998, when physician assisted suicide was first legalized in Oregon, through 2018.
Dr Joel Zivot, assistant professor of anesthesiology/critical care at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, recently published an article in Medpage Today explaining how an assisted death happens whether it is done on a prisoner or elderly family member.
My perception of this changed, however, when I was given a file of autopsy reports on inmates executed by lethal injection. Upon review, I noticed a striking and surprising finding: almost all autopsies revealed that the lungs had filled with frothy fluid. This occurred if the execution was by an injection of either pentobarbital or midazolam. I reviewed the autopsy of the execution that I had witnessed and found that, although I had seen no outward struggle, the inmate had developed the striking lung congestion I had noted in others.
Since then, I have reviewed a number of published MAiD protocols and found an additional striking factor: MAiD includes the use of a drug that paralyzes the body, making it impossible to breathe or to move. These drugs do not block the sensation of pain or the awareness of being paralyzed. Notably, the use of paralytics in execution by lethal injection generally has been abandoned because of its obvious cruelty.
No one should die by a lethal injection.
Imposed death, regardless of who is being killed and the method to do it, is wrong and barbaric. And it must stop.
As God’s people, we must uphold the 6th Commandment – do not murder. But based on the number of lives impacted by capital punishment, abortion, and euthanasia, it is clear to me that abortion and euthanasia demand more advocacy, prayer, ministry, and education, simply because there are more victims.
But here is the real bottom line for us as the Church; every death creates grief, shame, guilt, and life-changing consequences for everyone touched by it. Our goal as the Church must always be to provide consistent pastoral and biblical guidance for people when any of these issues touch their lives. We also need to teach, preach, and model love for every human life.
Every day I appreciate anew that we have all fallen short and are in need of His forgiveness, grace, and mercy, and, because God offers it, so must His Church.
by Deacon Georgette Forney, President, Anglicans for Life