The publicity surrounding the execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011 sparked contemplation of my views on usage of the death penalty as punishment. I have come to somewhat of an ethical dilemma. The focus on racially biased policies of the death penalty are a clear violation of the human rights of the victims; the penalty is disproportionately enforced for blacks who allegedly kill whites. This is clearly demonstrated by Amnesty International and other organizations that strive to protect human rights.

My opinion is that the death penalty should be abolished to preserve human rights. The ethical conflict that I began to debate with myself is: how does the death penalty relates to abortion? I align my self with the liberal belief of womens right to choose. There is something about this that seems to present an ethical contradiction. The debate surrounding both of these issues can be a polarizing force to say the least. This post is an attempt to wrestle with my internal conflict.

Disproportionate enforcement of the death penalty has a foundation in racist institutions that uphold the white majority’s position of dominance. The criminal justice system in the United States does not seem to be an effective mechanism of rehabilitation. The system fails to reintegrate former prisoners into society and there is a high recidivism rate due to this negligence. The system seems to be broken. There is a social necessity for prisons as institutions, though life behind bars seems to be as much of a violation of human rights as the death penalty does. There is certainly a need for a correctional system, but the current one does not work. In a twisted way I can view the death penalty as a potential liberating force for an individual who will spend the rest of their life in jail.

My personal ideology is that people should have freedom of individual autonomy to the degree that there exercising of this right does not negatively impact the lives of others. This is the foundation of my belief in womens right to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

On the same day the Troy Davis was put to death a white prisoner in Texas received the death penalty. The crimes committed by Lawrence Russell Brewer lead to the heinous, racially charged, murder of a black man. On September 21 the media coverage put Davis in the spotlight, and largely ignored Brewer. I read the focus on Davis as implicitly stating that justice has been served in regard to Brewer. Brewer demonstrated no regard for human life in the act of murder, and beyond this he clearly expressed hatred and disdain for another human in a manner that would likely continue. Is is possible that there are times when the death penalty is a just mechanism for societies retribution in crimes of hate?

I do not fundamentally believe in an eye for an eye, but I am struggling with my own beliefs.

How does this all relate to the right of women to choose abortion? Amnesty International vehemently opposes the use of the death penalty, the organization supports the right of at risk women to choose to abort pregnancy. The stance of AI has been harshly criticized by the Catholic Church.

From a press release on June 14, 2007:

Defending the right of women to sexual and reproductive integrity in the face of grave human rights violations, Amnesty International recently incorporated a focus on selected aspects of abortion into its broader policy on sexual and reproductive rights. These additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion.

The position of AI is not one that protects the right of abortion for all women, they specifically avoid entering the debate on the ethics of abortion. They seek protection of the rights of women who have been wronged by acts of rape. Abortion is a means of preventing further stigma that would result from the birth of a child after an atrocious act of violence.

I think their framing of this right, and their avoidance of making a policy statement on the larger issue of abortion are both interesting. The exclusion of a larger opinion concerning abortion is a political maneuver. There appears to be a discrepancy between this statement and the vehement opposition of the death penalty. This is mirrored by liberal support of the right to abortion, and opposition of the death penalty.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that these are both heated topics. My purpose is not to inflame or incite, I am honestly grappling with something that I view as a potential ethical conflict in my own ideology. My personal belief is that there is an inherent complexity in ideologies that we take for granted, and I am attempting to formulate a cohesive train of thought. My conclusion is that enforcement of the death penalty is a violation of human rights, even in situations where the penalty seems just (as with Brewer); I also see external enforcement of a woman’s body as a similar violation of human rights. It is from this stance that I feel just in my opposition of the death penalty, and support for the right to abortion.

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3 responses

  1. Marugeist says:

    Of course I will be respectful but honest as well, this is the only way to grow intellectually or the reason we go to school for, otherwise why bother? First of all thank you for posting on the death penalty and abortion (two highly controversial issues) I don’t want to comment on the death penalty issue much, but I do strongly believe that in cases in which there’s ANY doubt of the culpability of an alleged killer, the death penalty SHOULD NOT be executed as it was the case with Troy Davis. On the other hand I just wanted to comment on the abortion issue. If a woman has the right to abortion or not depending on the circumstances is one thing, but I just wanted to clarify one thing that is often used and confused by the person having an abortion. “It is my body” I completely disagree on having an abortion based on the prior statement, for it is a misleading statement. A fetus or body is not somebody else’s body and vice-versa. he or she is inside of a body, but is not anybody’s body, Not even part of somebody else’s body. He or she is inside someone’s body. Thus, having his or her own body, mind and soul completely separate from the other. This is just something I wanted to clarify, which is something I couldn’t explain in a human sexuality class I had taken before. A classmate who had done it and wouldn’t let me explain. Her only argument was “It is my body and I do what I want…”

    • jaredb says:

      Thank you for the comment, I appreciate the honest and respectful dialogue. I did do a little more research into abortion, and was surprised by the overall prevalence in the US, there is roughly one abortion performed for every four live births.

      In 2007, 827,609 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 49 reporting areas. This is a 2% decrease from the 846,181 abortions in 2006. The abortion rate for 2007 was 16.0 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years. This also is a 2% decrease from 2006. The abortion ratio was 231 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2007. This is a 3% decrease from 2006. During 1998–2007, the reported abortion numbers, rates, and ratios decreased 6%, 7%, and 14%, respectively. During 1997–2006, women aged 20–29 years accounted for the majority of abortions. The majority (62.3%) of abortions in 2007 were performed at ≤8 weeks’ gestation and 92% were performed at ≤13 weeks’ gestation; 13.1% of all abortions were medical abortions. Source: MMWR 2011;60(ss01):1–39.

      Found at: http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/index.htm

      At what point in development does a fetus become an individual? Is it the time of conception? I believe that many people would argue that the fetus becomes an individual at the point of viability, which is around 21-24 weeks into pregnancy. Does the fact that 92+% of abortions occur before a fetus is viable change the view point at all, very few (1-2%) abortions are performed after the 21st week. Above it is stated “his or her own body, mind and soul completely separate from the other.” Prior to the 21st week of pregnancy it is not possible for the fetus to be separate and still live, even at the 21st week some life support/assistance will be required.

      The legality of abortion is a mechanism to protect the long term reproductive health of women.

      What if the person who chose to have an abortion explained it as: “It is my legal right.” The ownership is removed from the morphology of the human body, by acknowledging a right protected by law in the United States. Abortion would not go away if it were not legal, though it would arguably become less safe for the women who choose that option. Life is complex; it is difficult to place moral judgment/justification on the actions of another person. I agree that the “It is my body” position seems to lack some depth, or specific intentionality in thought, but I do commend the woman for having the ability to speak about her experience in an open manner. Lowering the moral and social stigma associated with the topic of abortion will help overcome some of the issues that lead to the high prevalence. I suspect that any strategy that results in a lower abortion rate will have a realistic, rather than moralistic, approach. A strategy such as involving men in the family planning process in a more structured manner may have a larger impact on abortion rates than a moralist approach that targets women (who have decided to make one of the toughest decisions of their life).

  2. Meghan Mendiola says:

    Both of these topics are very controversial, and it seems no matter what happens people will always disagree. I believe in a woman’s right to chose mostly because I believe in equality and the welfare of the child if it is born. If a man and a woman get pregnant and they do not want to have it, and abortion is not an option, the man could walk away with no more than a financial obligation. However, the woman will have to go through the nine month pregnancy and eventually child birth (which I hear is painful) alone. Then what? Adoption? What if the child is not adopted? He/she will most likely grow up in an orphanage, and may not have a the same opportunities as other children. This is where many of the Republican candidates stump me. Why are they against abortion, but do not support many social services? The same social services that would help the child if he/she were placed in the custody of the state. This is just one scenario, but I believe a woman should have the same right to walk away, by ending the pregnancy, as a man, and no one gets hurt.