Rick Perry and the Age Old Right Wing Pro-Life, Pro-Death Penalty Conundrum

perryconfusedThis morning the Texas state legislature, at the direction of Governor Rick Perry, scheduled their second vote in two months on extremely restrictive, and possibly unconstitutional abortion legislation. The driving force behind the proposed legislation is Governor Perry’s so called staunch pro-life stance. The problem, however, is Rick Perry isn’t really pro-life at all. Really he is just a poser who has the audacity to call himself pro-life. Why? Well because since Governor Perry took office in 2000, the state of Texas has executed 301 people. Specifically, between 2000-2012, the state of Texas at the direction of Gov. Perry executed 293 people, and this year to date, the state has executed 8 people so far. In fact, according to Amnesty International:

“In under a dozen years, Texas has killed more than twice as many people in its lethal injection chamber as any other state in the USA has put to death in the three and a half decades since the US Supreme Court allowed executions to resume under new capital laws.”

If Rick Perry were truly pro-life, one would think he would call special legislative sessions to attempt repealing the Texas death penalty statute. Not the case. Moreover, common sense dictates that anyone who has executed a record number of people during their time in office is clearly not pro-life.

Now, many have argued pro-life is obviously a reference to abortion and not to the death penalty. I don’t see it that way. In my mind, pro-life is exactly that, pro-life. Meaning that if you are truly pro-life, you should be against the death penalty as well. Life without parole is always an option for convicted criminals, albeit I am not out to start a death penalty debate in this article. However, if the point of  being pro-life is protecting life, which anti-choice advocates including Governor Perry claim it is, then Governor Perry is doing a horrendous job at it.

Furthermore, a good portion of those who are executed are innocent and exonerated post mortem. If you are actually pro-life you should not want to see anyone executed, especially considering the possibility they could be innocent. For those who are truly pro-life, the mere chance that an innocent person could be executed is enough to make them anti-death penalty. I mean, why do you think the Catholic Church has been staunchly anti-death penalty? It’s because the Catholic Church, unlike Rick Perry, is actually pro-life. True pro-lifers, like Pope John Paul II, simply do not care about the guilt or innocence of a person. What they care about is that person’s life. Moreover, while I may not agree with the Catholic Church on much of anything (including their stance on abortion) the point is, the Catholic Church has it right. They have a consistent ideology, and are truly pro-life. Everyone else, meaning those that are “pro-life,” but are also pro-death penalty, are nothing more than a bunch of hypocrites.

Also, for the record, I should say that on the other side of the coin there is more ideological leeway. Why? Well, because being pro-choice and being anti-death penalty aren’t hypocritical positions like being pro-life and pro-death penalty are. Despite what those on the right may believe, those of us who are pro-choice are NOT pro-abortion, rather we are PRO-CHOICE. Meaning we are for women having the freedom, liberty and privacy to decide when life begins and to make medical decisions about their reproductive health without interference from the government. As Justice O’Connor so eloquently put it:

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

If this is unclear to you, it means that at the very core of our constitutional rights, specifically the right to liberty, is the right for all of us to decide when life begins. If the government were to dictate when life begins, they would be in violation of our constitutionally protected right to liberty. Therefore, because our Constitution gives us the freedom and liberty to decide when life begins, it is up to each and every one of us to decide for ourselves whether we consider an 8 cell embryo to be a “baby” or merely a collection of cells. With that being said, if one decides that an 8 cell embryo is not in fact a “baby,” then no hypocrisy follows from that person being pro-choice and anti-death penalty. Additionally, even if one decides that an 8 cell embryo is in fact a “baby,” and would personally never seek abortion, they can still be pro-choice if they believe that other people should have the freedom and liberty to make that decision on their own. Thus, logically speaking, one can easily be pro-choice and anti-death penalty. On the other hand, as I said already and will say again, logically speaking, one simply cannot be pro-life and pro-death penalty while claiming to have a consistent ideology.


Ultimately, all of this goes back to the same point I keep repeating. Those that are truly pro-life (the Catholic Church being my example) care not about who is guilty or who is innocent. They care simply about life. They are against abortion and against the death penalty because they are pro-life. After executing a record 301 people, Rick Perry undeniably cannot say the same.

Ilyssa Fuchs

Ilyssa Fuchs is an attorney, freelance writer, and activist from New York City, who holds both a juris doctor and a political science degree. She is the founder of the popular Facebook page Politically Preposterous and a blog of the same name. Follow Ilyssa on Twitter @IlyssaFuchs, and be sure to check out her archives on Forward Progressives as well!

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  • Kenny Loggins

    Have you ever heard of innocence vs. guilt?

    • Ilyssa

      I addressed that. Did you read the article?

      • Ryan G.

        Don’t listen to Kenny up there. You made the sane argument… why kill adults, who might later be proven innocent, but force all pregnant women to have their children regardless of circumstance?

      • Rachel

        I think Kenny may have been referring to the innocence of the babies not of the convicted criminals.

    • Trevor Turner

      Yes, and Rick Perry is guilty of executing over 300 people. Where is the death penalty for him? The Death Penalty is legalized murder… wait a second, that kind of sounds like a Pro-Life argument… Consistency people. Get off your high horse and think for one second.

  • Rachel

    3 days after fertilization the embryo is no longer just an 8 cell embryo. At 8 weeks it is no longer an embryo, it is a fetus with a heartbeat and brain waves can now be measured. At this stage doesn’t pro-choice then become pro-death?

    • Ryan G.

      That depends on whether or not you think “killing” something that cannot live on its own is murder AND the circumstances surrounding it AND the choice of the parent(s) involved. Stop making it out to be so cut-and-dry. It isn’t.

      • Rachel

        I did not say murder, nor did I say anything at all about circumstances.
        But, in order to “kill” something, whether or not it can live on its
        own, means it is/was alive. What I don’t understand is why, as a general rule, 5 months is not enough time to make this decision.

      • Nancy

        I’m sure you kill plants and animals and bacteria and viruses all the time Rachel. Shame on you. Men kill sperm (a living organism capable of becoming a human) every time they masturbate, but you don’t see anyone making laws against that. Why? Because almost all the legislators are male.

      • Rachel

        This is the first time I have ever heard someone compare a human baby to bacteria or a virus. By the way Nancy, the shame is on you.

  • Rachel

    I did not say murder, nor did I say anything at all about circumstances. But, in order to “kill” something, whether or not it can live on its own, means it is/was alive.

  • Seymor B. Utzs

    You progressives are so incredibly blind. The people who were executed had a choice, that being, a choice not to commit a crime, such as murder, that would result in the death penalty. The unborn have done nothing to deserve an abortion. Guilty vs. Innocent

    • Ilyssa

      Again you clearly did not read the article because the article addresses this issue exactly. Talk about incredibly blind, how about incredibly stupid? “A good portion of those who are executed are innocent and exonerated post mortem. If you are actually pro-life you should not want to see anyone executed, especially considering the possibility they could be innocent. For those who are truly pro-life, the mere chance that an innocent person could be executed is enough to make them anti-death penalty. I mean, why do you think the Catholic Church has been staunchly anti-death penalty? It’s because the Catholic Church, unlike Rick Perry, is actually pro-life. True pro-lifers, like Pope John Paul II, simply do not care about the guilt or innocence of a person. What they care about is that person’s life.”

      • Jack

        1.”A good portion” is a deliberately misleading phrase and in this case empirically false. In fact the percentage is very small. The innocence project you linked to describes two persons exonerated in the year from death row. There were almost 13,000 murders that year according to the FBI data. This should not be surprising, afterall the criminal justice system in the United States is weighed in the defenses favor. There will always be cracks in the system, but the cracks get smaller day by day as technology progresses and were never sufficient justification to avoid administering the death penalty. Everything must be done to avoid wrongful convictions but the evil of a wrongful conviction lies in the conviction itself not in whatever punishment stems from that conviction. We do not stop punishing criminals because a small percentage of them might be innocent. We simply do our best to shrink that percentage of the wrongfully convicted.

        2.The conflation of an unborn child to a convicted capital class murder who was given every opportunity to defend and appeal their case is grotesque and part of the reason I cannot take pro-choicers and liberals in general seriously when they claim some corner of the market for compassion and good nature.

      • Ilyssa

        You clearly miss the point. To those that are truly pro-life, even one innocent person being executed is one too many. The point is, people who support the death penalty need to stop calling themselves pro-life because pro-life is a deliberately misleading phrase and in this case also empirically false… as a good friend of mine once said, “If you want to be anti abortion then say you are anti- abortion. But if you want to wear the mantle of “pro life” because it sounds more noble, you then can be called a hypocrite if you want to be pro death penalty”

      • Ilyssa

        Also, there is nothing deliberately misleading or empirically false about “good portion,” because it’s not an empirical phrase, it’s a subjective one. Reasonable people can differ about how many innocent people executed constitutes a “good portion” because the phrase is not defined empirically. To one person, “good portion” could mean as little as 1% and to another person it could mean 40%. Had the article said something like, “more than 50% of the those executed were innocent,” that would be deliberately misleading and empirically false since the statistics clearly show otherwise. As Voltaire once said, “It is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to condemn even one innocent one.”

    • Guest

      They say be careful what you wish for, but screw it, I hope one day you are wrongly accused and convicted of a heinous murder and are facing execution while pleading your innocence. Many many many people have been exonerated after they were executed. So what you are saying is you are perfectly OK with executing innocent people?

  • Nancy

    The problem with this article is that you are attempting to use LOGIC. That doesn’t work with people who believe that the earth was created in 7 days about 5000 years ago. The pro-life plus pro-death-penalty conundrum (and similar logical distortions) is so common it’s been given a label by the psychological community: “cognitive dissonance” . My hope is that this will be classified as a brain disorder sometime soon, so we can start working toward a cure, developing methods to test for it, and most importantly, prevent those afflicted from holding public office.

  • JaneAdams

    The idea that citizens have the right to decide what constitutes life for themselves is asinine. We clearly do not grant them that right if they chose any time after nine months. So how does this constitutional right to define life for themselves suddenly disappear as soon the child is out of the womb? Perhaps because it never existed in the first place? If the United States adopted this thinking it would be the only nation in the developed world, perhaps the only nation on earth to do so. All European nations have a certain time limit on abortion and most of them are, by liberal Texans standards at least, pretty restrictive.

  • julianenglish

    I’m strongly pro choice, and want to accept your positiin, but I cant. There is a principled way to be pro life and pro execution for people convicted of certain crimes, and it does turn on the distinction between innocent life and the lives of those who are not innocent. There is also a problem with vesting the moment of viability with too much significance. This is an issue that — as a POLITICAL ISSUE — cries out for a pragmatic solution. No one wants an abortion, all can agree that human life has value, but we cannot seem to agree how much, when and why (a 2 celled zygote IS human life, but I would argue that my life, or yours,is of greater value if there is a clash between the two. In the end, the issue id so complex and nuanced that the best answer is to set broad parameters (20 weeks, 24 weeks, etc.) After which the state has an interest, but otherwise, the choice is best left to the person most effected by the decision — the pregnant woman. Hence, pro choice.