The “back-alley” argument, repurposed

Cross-posted from Secular Pro-Life

Yesterday, Slate published an article by Boer Deng and Dahlia Lithwick entitled Liberal Guilt: In the push to abolish the capital punishment, opponents of the death penalty have made it less safe. 

Let us first take a moment to ponder the lunacy of that headline. What, exactly, is a “safe” death penalty? Safe for whom?

It’s clear from the article itself that what the authors really mean is that executions are becoming less humane. Not that it makes a whole lot of difference from the inmate’s point of view. (In fairness, I suspect that the authors didn’t write the headline; that task is usually left to editors.)

But that’s all beside the point. I bring this article to your attention because it’s a fascinating re-tooling of an old pro-abortion argument.

Here’s the crux:

Lethal injection was supposed to be the humane alternative to firing squads and hangings. But as American physicians sideline themselves and European pharmaceutical firms (and American ones with global ties) decline to supply the most known and efficacious lethal injection drugs, corrections officials have been pushed to use inferior methods and substandard providers. In other words—and painful though it is to admit—the real culprit in the death of Clayton Lockett is opposition to the death penalty. In pushing for outright abolition of capital punishment, we have undermined the countervailing effort to make it as clean and painless as possible.

Raise your hand if this sounds really familiar.

Those naive, stupid right-to-life activists, discouraging physicians from performing a lawful procedure and restricting access. They’re just pushing it all underground… right? Whether you’re talking about the death penalty or abortion, it’s the exact same argument.

And it’s utter nonsense.

Nobody is “pushing corrections officers to use inferior methods and substandard providers.” Incredibly, the article elsewhere says that death penalty states have been “forced”—yes, forced—to use questionable sources of lethal drugs.

In the context of abortion, we have already addressed the bizarre idea that people are “forced” to create an underground system of killing people:

[T]he pro-choice argument about “back-alley” abortions assumes that women are stupid and/or without meaningful agency.

Women will be forced to avail themselves of illegal abortion procedures, abortion advocates say. They’ll have to. It’sinevitable. The idea that they might choose life instead? Preposterous.

In short, they are saying that the average American woman, living after the reversal of Roe, would be completely incapable of the following train of thought: “This pregnancy hasn’t come at a good time. There’s a pregnancy center a couple miles from here that might be able to help me out, but will that be enough? I suppose I could take a semester off. Or maybe I could take online classes instead. Will I have to take out a loan? Move back in with my parents? Get a second job? Go on welfare? Place my baby with an adoptive family? I’m not thrilled about any of these options. On the other hand, they are much better than the option of sticking a sharp object up my privates and hoping for the best.”

Likewise, in the death penalty context, the available alternatives are quite obvious. Even if a state isn’t yet prepared to take the death penalty off its books, it can declare a moratorium. They just don’t want to, because they’ve decided that they value the death of particular people over safety considerations. (Whose fault is that?)

Sadly, that should sound really familiar, too.

I realize that not all Secular Pro-Life members oppose the death penalty. And you don’t have to; it isn’t an official SPL stance (although I personally am opposed, obviously). But the parallels here are pretty striking. Clearly, the movement to abolish abortion and the movement to abolish capital punishment can learn a lot from one another.

And if you oppose the death penalty, and you find the Slate article absurd, but you’ve never given much thought to abortion… may this be your introduction.

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