Are you pro-life? Opposed to big government? Do you believe in reducing government spending? Do you support the death penalty? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you may want to re-think your position on the death penalty. As supporters of life, liberty, property, and limited government, I believe that all conservatives and libertarians should oppose the death penalty.
I used to be a staunch supporter of the death penalty. I firmly believed that one should repay an “eye for an eye” or a “life for a life.” I can remember exactly where I was when I reformed these beliefs. It was on January 23, 2006 and I was participating in the March for Life in Washington DC. As I was walking down Pennsylvania Ave, I noticed a sign that read: “Pro-Life No Exceptions.” I thought back to the many debates with my girlfriend at the time, when she would ask me how I could be pro-life but still support the death penalty. Being pro-life, I had to ask myself, “how could I say that I support life, but support the state-sanctioned taking of life?”
Cost of the Death Penalty
Furthermore, as someone who believes in limited government, I also had to ask myself another important question. “If I don’t trust the government to make decisions about my wallet, how can I trust the government to make decisions about killing people?” Crazy, right? Oftentimes, we conservatives and libertarians rail against government spending, and rightfully so. So why do we still overwhelmingly support a policy that costs taxpayers about four times more than cases where the death penalty is not involved?
This figure only takes into account the cost of trial. We also have to take into account the costs for appeals and to house prisoners. According to Forbes:
And let’s not forget about appeals: in Idaho, the State Appellate Public Defenders office spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence appeal (downloads as a pdf): almost 8,000 hours per capital defendant compared to about 180 hours per non-death penalty defendant. New York state projected that the death penalty costs the state $1.8 million per case just through trial and initial appeal.
It costs more to house death penalty prisoners, as well. In Kansas, housing prisoners on death row costs more than twice as much per year ($49,380) as for prisoners in the general population ($24,690). In California, incarceration costs for death penalty prisoners totaled more than $1 billion from 1978 to 2011 (total costs outside of incarceration were another $3 billion). By the numbers, the annual cost of the death penalty in the state of California is $137 million compared to the cost of lifetime incarceration of $11.5 million.
The Death Penalty and Crime Deterrence
I often hear the argument that the death penalty is the best method of reducing the murder rate. After all, if one is facing the threat of death, one would be less likely to commit murder, right? Well, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, states which impose the death penalty had an average of 4.4 murders per 100,000 people as opposed to only 3.4 murders per 100,000 people in non-death penalty states.
Furthermore, let’s look at the murder rate based on region. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the South consistently has the highest murder rate per capita, yet they have, by far, the most executions (as the chart shows below) since the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.
MURDER RATES PER 100,000 PEOPLE
EXECUTIONS SINCE 1976(As of 11/19/14)
If the death penalty is a deterrent for crime, shouldn’t the states with the most executions have the lowest murder rate per capita?
The Death Penalty and The Innocent
According to the Innocence Project, at least ten people have been executed in cases where there is evidence that may exonerate them. Since 1973, 150 people on death row have been exonerated through new evidence and been pardoned, acquitted by a new trial, or had their charges dismissed. In 2014 alone, seven death-row inmates were exonerated including Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman, who were convicted of murder in 1975. These men spent 39 years on death row, their entire adult lives. Yet if supporters of the death penalty had their way, these men would have been executed 38 years ago.
I prefer to adhere to the saying by conservative jurist Sir William Blackstone that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
Albert is a licensed attorney and holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son named Albert and a black lab puppy named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.
Is the execution of an innocent person, even a child, enough to undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole, and capital punishment in particular? If one error is not convincing enough, is there some acceptable level of innocent life ended at the hands of the state (or their peers, if that makes you feel better) that would change your mind? Or is the (spurious) deterrent factor of the death penalty or faith in the process, regardless of further evidence, so strong as to make all wrongful convictions and executions irrelevant?
I’ve already seen one person respond in the comments section to the effect “Well that was during Jim Crow ; our criminal justice system is so much better now.”
Here at The Liberty Papers, we don’t like to shy away from controversial issues. So we’re going to talk about abortion this week.
As you can expect, there are a wide variety of stances on this issue, just like the country at large. Some contributors refused to participate because they were personally uncomfortable with the topic.
Abortion related legislation is always in the news and it seems as if it’s on the ballot every year and this year was no exception. Colorado rejected an initiative to add “unborn human beings” to the criminal code. North Dakota rejected a “right to life” amendment that would’ve protected unborn children. However, Tennessee passed an amendment to the constitution that explicitly rejects the right to an abortion.
I can write my position in five lines not three paragraphs… the problem is that to understand it in anything but the most simplistic way (which is to say, to have any meaningful understanding of it at all) you need to have a lot of background in morals and ethics.
There is a fairly sophisticated… unfortunately too sophisticated for most people… moral and ethical concept, of non-relativist conditional morality and ethics.
There’s actually a few thousand pages worth or moral and ethical philosophy that goes into understanding these concepts fully of course, but essentially it can be grossly oversimplified by the idea of “least bad” decision making.
Some problems or questions have no good answers or solutions, only more or less bad, more or less wrong, more or less optimal etc…
Or, there may be such answers, but the person making the decision does not have the ability, the information, the tools, or the time, to do so; or the circumstances are such that a “good” or “right” or optimal answer cannot be made in the time required.
When a person cannot make a good, or right decision; the only moral, or ethical choice, or the optimal choice; is to make the LEAST bad, or wrong, or suboptimal choice.
Most people are with you up to this point.
The problem spot, where you lose a lot of people, is this…
Making the least bad decision for the circumstances, STILL DOES NOT MAKE IT RIGHT.
You can “do the best you can”, or “do the best thing for everyone”, and still have committed a moral or ethical wrong.
This is where a lot of peoples brains short circuit. The concept that they “did the right thing given the circumstances”, but were still morally or ethically wrong. Many folks really cannot understand or accept this. Their hardwired moral and ethical understandings don’t allow for anything other than “right”, “wrong” or “somewhere in between”. The notion of being both wrong, and right-ish, doesn’t work.
So, given that, here is my very simple and easy to understand position on abortion
1. Abortion is always morally wrong, usually ethically wrong, and frequently of suboptimal utility
2. Sometimes, having an abortion is LESS wrong than not having an abortion
3. I do not have enough information, intelligence, knowledge, or wisdom to make such a decision for anyone else. Neither does anyone else.
4. I do not have the moral or ethical right to do so. Neither does anyone else.
5. Any person, group, or government attempting to make such decisions for anyone else, or make any laws regarding such decisions, will only and always make everything worse for everyone.
This government was founded on the belief that all people were created equally – that they were endowed by their creator with inalienable right, and that among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The central question of Roe vs. Wade was not whether the right to life applied to all people, but whether an unborn child was considered human under the law. The science is settled on this question. The latest, according to all credible scientists, that life can possibly be said to begin is at implantation. I am not as far to the right o this issue as some, in that I don’t believe that the morning after pill is an “abortion causing” drug. But I am a scientist who believes in the core founding principles of both the scientific method and the American Founding.
The first job – and the most crucial – of any government is to defend lives (the national defense, the maintenance of civil law and order, and the prohibition of the taking of lives). Both my particular spiritual belief and the science agree that abortion ends a human life and denies that life of due process on top of its’ inalienable right to that life. As such, I do not believe government is taking a moral stand any more controversial than laws against murder – which no one finds controversial in the slightest.
But here’s a libertarian addition to that basic position: not only does abortion take away a person’s right to life, but it is a part of a larger cultural movement toward treating all lives as commodities – as entries on a balance sheet. The fundamental arguments in favor of abortion tend to center around the financial burdens of unwanted children both on the state and on the mother. Here’s the problem – the minute we allow government to take an active (and controversial, scientifically) moral stand on abortion by making it legal, and in so doing sanctify the government’s role in deciding which lives are worth protecting, we empower politicians to argue in favor of all other manner of life-ending government interventions, from “end of life” healthcare rationing to forced sterilization of the poor and the prison population (already happening in California for prisoners!) to outright eugenics (nearly happened during FDR’s presidency and abortion’s biggest advocates are mainly people who argue in favor of eugenics). The risks of government deciding which specific types of murder are OK are far, far too great to let them enter this arena. Which leaves us with the opening question. Is a pre-born child a human life? That’s not even a question to anyone who is remotely objective on the issue.
“This is a hard topic. I’m personally uncomfortable with abortion. Had anyone I had “relations” with in my life fallen pregnant unexpectedly, I can’t even fathom the idea of doing anything other than raising the child. Luckily, it’s not a position I’ve ever had to be in. The one woman in my life who I know has had an abortion is a woman who I am terrified will one day reproduce. My wife and I have cut her out of our lives after we had kids because we think she’s a toxic personality and don’t want her around us or our children. So as uncomfortable as I am with abortion, I’m not upset that that woman had one.
I’ve already touched this third rail here. In short, there is some point at which a zygote progresses to become a fetus and eventually a baby, and I am conflicted at to which point in the chain that entity becomes a human deserving of rights. I don’t think I’d support legal punishments for anyone aborting a pregnancy in the first trimester. At that point I don’t think there’s a viable consciousness yet. I think I would support punishment in the third trimester, because at that point you’re talking about a baby that would be viable outside the womb. If you can’t make a decision to terminate a pregnancy by the third trimester, at the very least continue it and put the child up for adoption. The second trimester is a grey area, and I hate the idea of throwing people in jail for a grey area.
I say this as someone who experienced two early-term miscarriages with my wife before we successfully had kids. When you lose a baby at 10 weeks, although it’s very sad, it’s mentally the loss of a potential baby. Someone I know who miscarried at 7 months was a completely different situation. That was tragic. This difference informs me that there truly is a qualitative difference between a first-trimester fetus and a third-trimester baby.
I realize my answer is a highly unsatisfying middle ground that will probably make the pro-life and the pro-choice people both hate me. So be it.”
The abortion issue seems to be an issue one is either 100% in favor or 100% opposed. The reality is though, that most people can probably come to some common ground on the issue. For most people, it comes down to where the line should be drawn for when a pregnancy ought to be terminated.
The politics of this issue, however; is being driven by the extremists on both sides (for a very cynical reason: politics). Anti-choice extremists wish to take certain forms of birth control off the market based primarily on religious and/or philosophical ideas (rather than medical science) about ‘when life begins’ (some go even further arguing that ‘every sperm is sacred;’ ejaculation should only occur if procreation is at least theoretically possible). Pro-choice extremists on the other hand believe that women should have the right to have an abortion up to the time the baby exits the birth canal (some even think it should be legal to kill a baby right after delivery).
There does seem to be at least some wiggle room among those on the anti-choice side as some will argue that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in peril. The very idea that a woman should be forced to carry a baby to term that was a result of a rape is repugnant. That said, I don’t know how this would work as a practical matter. What is the burden of proof for a woman seeking an abortion who claims she was raped? The honor system? A criminal conviction for a crime that is very difficult to prove? (Men are already victims of being falsely accused of rape as much as 45% of the time; imagine if this incentive was added?)
I just want to caution my anti-choice friends that as with all legislation, there will be unintended consequences and women will still have abortions. If you really want fewer abortions (as all decent people should), you should be more tolerant of the use of birth control (this includes the morning after pill) and try to persuade women to keep their children or put them up for adoption instead of using the force of government against women in a difficult situation.
The legal and philosophical framework of Roe v. Wade was sound. The woman’s right to autonomy must be balanced against the state’s legitimate interest in protecting life. Up until a certain point, the woman’s interests are overriding. Past a certain point, the state’s interests become overriding.
The difficulty is determining at what point that shift occurs.
As technology and scientific knowledge advance, we know more about the attributes of developing life. But only philosophy can answer what attributes entitle it to protection. A heartbeat? A brainstem? The capacity to feel pain? A preference for continued existence? The ability to fight for survival?
A decade ago, a colleague came back from her obstetrician’s appointment with a series of still shots of her 14-week old “fetus.” I believed then and continue to believe with my whole heart that what I saw that day had a soul. I therefore draw the line no later than, and possibly before, the end of the first trimester.
I’ve written on this topic before elsewhere and I generally stand by my latest previous writing on it. I’ve changed my views on this topic over the past few years based on experience.
While I oppose legalized second and third trimester abortions, I do believe that the best way to reduce the number of abortions (which should be the ultimate goal here) is to work through the culture. Christians and others who are pro-life need to support things such as crisis pregnancy centers, promoting adoption, and yes charities to help the families who are afraid they cannot afford to raise the children. We should also support increased access to birth control and more comprehensive sex education.
As for the first trimester, while I do believe that abortion for the sake of convenience is immoral and is murder, I have serious concerns about whether or not it is actually enforceable. Most natural miscarriages take place in this period and sometimes take place without the woman knowing she’s pregnant. So put me down as an undecided on this one.
What do you think? Please tell us in the comments below!
I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.