Life

“Reinstating the death penalty exposes the hypocrisy of the pro-life US government”

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Christobel Hastings
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For the first time in 16 years, the US justice department has reinstated the federal death penalty. And the ruthless thirst for vengeance exposes a stark hypocrisy in the “pro-life” administration, argues Christobel Hastings.

The headlines make for bleak reading. For the first time in 16 years, the US government is set to resume the use of the death penalty

Even as you’re likely experiencing feelings of profound anger, sorrow and disgust, you might also be hoping that depraved policy, which was reinstated yesterday, might well be overturned in the time it takes to give inmates their last rites. There you would be mistaken, because the US justice department hasn’t wasted a second in scheduling the execution of five death row federal inmates for December and January.

In an official statement announcing the news, Attorney General William P. Barr pinned his colours firmly to the mast.

“Congress has expressly authorised the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” he said. “Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding. The Justice Department upholds the rule of law - and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

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The arguments from both supporters and critics of the death penalty are well-trodden paths in the bitter row over capital punishment. Those in favour, much like Barr, claim that the death penalty is a fair and just course of action for people who have committed the most heinous crimes imaginable. Opponents, meanwhile, argue that it is deeply immoral policy and a gross violation of the fundamental human right to life. 

In the current political climate, however, when the US administration is engaged in the deliberate rollback of reproductive rights, resuming the policy exposes an insidious double standard for politicians working assiduously to restrict women’s bodily autonomy. 

That double standard pertains to supporters of the so-called “pro-life” movement, who vociferously protest the right of a woman to receive an abortion, and brand themselves “defenders” of the unborn. Curiously, many of those same “pro-life” advocates have been remarkably quiet over the death penalty being reinstated.

If you say the following statement out loud, the hypocrisy is unmistakeable: a pro-life administration supports the death penalty. How on earth can a government so preternaturally obsessed with protecting the sanctity of life when it comes to reproductive rights resume the use of the death penalty and schedule five executions in the space of 24 hours?

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The answer, of course, is that the US administration isn’t really committed to protecting human life. You simply can’t uphold the sanctity of life, and simultaneously postpone that belief system when you crave vengeance. You don’t get to profess to champion the lives of the “innocent” and zealously call for state-sanctioned killing. Those views aren’t consistent, they aren’t ethical, and they certainly aren’t “pro-life.”

As far as I’m concerned, the death penalty is legally and morally indefensible. But even if you’re a supporter of capital punishment, you have no business also attempting to reconcile that view with the “pro-life” movement. If “pro-life” advocates truly believed every life is sacred, from the unborn child, to the condemned inmate on death row, they’d be protesting outside prisons as loudly as they do outside women’s abortion clinics. But therein lies the rub: the only real consistency between those who call for the death penalty and those who want to ban abortion, is a savage thirst for retribution, and an unshakeable desire to control women. 

Image: Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.