Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pro-Life AND Pro-Capital Punishment???

That's awfully inconsistent, isn't it? How could anyone possibly be pro-life when it comes to the abortion issue and yet at the same time support capital punishment? After all, the "death penalty" certainly doesn't sound pro-life!

Pro-abortion choice advocates (and even some pro-lifers) will occasionally make the claim that being pro-life and in favor of capital punishment is inconsistent. The objection here seems to be that these pro-lifers oppose killing in the case of abortion and yet support killing in the case of capital punishment. It is then concluded by some that the pro-life position on abortion is incorrect. Just recently I heard one pro-lifer said, "If only we didn't support capital punishment," as if to insinuate that this was hurting the pro-life cause. This objection and line of reasoning is flawed in several respects.

First, this objection commits a red herring fallacy. The topic under debate is abortion and our concern is whether or not abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. What exactly does capital punishment have to do with that? Capital punishment is brought up as a distraction to divert attention off of the main issue: abortion. The fact that a pro-lifer may be inconsistent in their views has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not abortion kills a valuable human person. An inconsistent individual can still draw a good conclusion. But this alleged inconsistency does nothing to support either the pro-life or pro-choice position. Furthermore, wouldn't this argument also make those who are pro-abortion choice and against capital punishment equally inconsistent?

Second, some pro-life advocates do not believe capital punishment is morally justifiable. Certainly these pro-lifers cannot be accused of inconsistency. If a perceived inconsistency is the problem, why not take this position which retains the merits of the pro-life position rather than presumptively conclude the pro-life position is incorrect?

Third, it can be rationally and persuasively argued that the pro-life position on abortion is consistent with capital punishment. The reason pro-life advocates are opposed to abortion is because abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. But not so with capital punishment. Capital punishment is reserved for those guilty parties who have received due process and have been convicted of committing a capital offense, such as murder. Notice that in both cases, abortion and capital punishment, a life is taken. The difference is that one is an innocent life and the other is not. To say that the pro-life position on abortion is inconsistent with capital punishment is to say that there is no difference between taking the life of an innocent human being and taking the life of a guilty one. There is nothing inconsistent about being pro-life and pro-capital punishment since pro-lifers are against killing an innocent human person and capital punishment does not kill an innocent human person.

Finally, this objection is a great example of an ad hominem fallacy. Instead of dealing with the arguments offered by the pro-life position against abortion, the pro-abortion choice advocate attacks the character of the pro-lifer by claiming intellectual inconsistency.

The major points and commentary presented here were taken from two sources:
Defending Life by Francis Beckwith, pg. 126-127, and also this article by the same author.

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