The Pew Research Center has come to fascinating conclusions in its studies of the death penalty. The center has found that 60% of adults favor the death penalty for people who have committed murder. However, 78% say there is some risk of innocent people being put to death.

This concern for innocent lives being killed has undeniable parallels to an argument I have heard in what is probably the most widely debated issue in the United States today: abortion.

The pro-life (anti-abortion) opinion is held by almost half of United States citizens according to Gallup. I argue these two issues have more in common than what is on the surface, and that opposing the death penalty actually aligns with many of the positions that people who consider themselves pro-life typically take.

The number of people who are unjustly on death row is nothing short of alarming. For every nine people executed on death row, one has been exonerated. This means that if it was not for adequate counseling and DNA testing becoming admissible evidence in court, there would be over 150 innocent people killed by the government who should not have been incarcerated in the first place. I think people who support pro-life can recognize how awful this is, as the whole basis of the pro-life argument is that embryos are wrongly being “killed.”

Along with keeping innocent people alive, there are two more reasons it makes sense for people to oppose the death penalty.

The first is that it lessens government control. There is nothing more powerful than the decision to allow someone to live or to die. Taking this power away makes the government a less dominant force.

Secondly, it would reduce government spending. It costs significantly more taxpayer dollars to sentence someone to death than it does to sentence someone to life in prison, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, because trials for people committing crimes of that magnitude are long and usually involve many appeals. The vast majority of death row inmates cannot afford an attorney so states cover these costs. Moreover, death row inmates are held in high security prisons which are very expensive to maintain, usually for decades as they await their execution dates.

Supporters of the death penalty generally refer to the Bible as their evidence as to why the death penalty should always be used if a person commits a murder. Exodus 21:12 argues that he who kills should die. I would counter this argument in that — as a nation — we are potentially killing people who did not kill. The death of innocent souls should not be a byproduct of the justice system because such action most certainly is not just. There should be no penalty harsher than life in prison, so if new information emerges that could prove one’s innocence it will not have to be presented posthumously.

I leave you with this thought from the Equal Justice Initiative: “The question we need to ask about the death penalty in America is not whether someone deserves to die for a crime. The question is whether we deserve to kill.”

We may feel that someone should die for the crimes they committed, but that does not mean we should kill. As we value the life of embryos, we must consider how other innocent lives are taken every year and reconsider the true cost of the death penalty.

Covy Dufort is a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, and this piece was written as part of coursework in Incarceration Nation class.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.