Capital Punishment And Abortion, An Argument From Doubt
I think we all have, if we are fortunate, a few good friends with religious and political viewpoints very different from our own with whom we regularly hold long discussions. For me, one of these is an uncle of mine. My mom is the oldest of seven, so this uncle is actually only fifteen years older than I am. He’s a long lapsed Catholic (he describes himself as believing in God but having no religion), a comic book and movie buff, an independent rocker, and someone who thinks a lot about the meaning of life, though he does so from a very different perspective than I do.
A few months back, my uncle was telling me about how he’d recently become pro-life (or anti-abortion, for those who ride the hobby horse of not being willing to accept the common use of the term.) His reason, he said, was basically the same as the reason he’d come to oppose capital punishment a few years before.
With capital punishment, although he thought it completely justified to execute someone who really was guilty of murder, he’d decided that the possible injustice of executing someone who was innocent outweighed the need of society for capital punishment to punish crime. Because he thought people were wrongly convicted a realistic percentage of the time, he’d come to oppose capital punishment completely. After all, if you have someone serving a life sentence, you can always let him out if he’s cleared. But if you’ve already executed him, it’s too late.
His conversion on the abortion issue was when he realized that it was a similar situation of doubt. In the past, he’d supported abortion rights on the theory that he didn’t know if the fetus was a “real human being” or not, and so it seemed fair to give the woman legal “control over her body”. However, then he’d come to think: if I don’t know if the fetus is a “real human being” or not, shouldn’t I presume life just like with capital punishment? Having come to presume on the side of life in the case of capital punishment, he decided he should presume on the side of life with abortion as well.
This was interesting to me, because I’d always been perplexed by people who told me that one should always oppose capital punishment as a first step to opposing abortion. “Why should one protect guilty life over innocent life?” seems the obvious question to me. However, if one’s viewpoint is that the humanity of the unborn child is in doubt, then the analogy makes a lot of sense.
I don’t agree with this thought progression, because I don’t share the doubt as to the humanity of the unborn child, but it does make sense to me now.