Aren't pro-lifers inconsistent if they support capital punishment?

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Some pro-choice (and even pro-life) advocates have pointed out that some people who believe in capital punishment are also pro-life on the abortion issue. And since capital punishment entails the killing of another human being, these pro-lifers are inconsistent. Some people assume that this inconsistency makes the pro-life position on abortion incorrect. There are several reasons why this belief cannot be justified.

  1. How does this help the pro-choice position or hurt the pro-life position on abortion? Wouldn't this argument make people who are against capital punishment and for pro-choice equally inconsistent?

  2. Inconsistent people can draw good conclusions. For example, an Irish terrorist may inconsistently believe that it is all right to murder Catholics and not Protestants. But this inconsistency in his thinking would not make his correct conclusion about the wrongness of murdering Protestants automatically incorrect. Hence, this argument is a red-herring and does not deal with the ethical legitimacy of the pro-life position.

  3. There are a number of pro-life advocates who do not believe that capital punishment is morally justified.[1] The pro-choice advocate can't say that these pro-lifers are inconsistent. Why does he (or she) not then give up the pro-choice position and embrace this pro-life position, since it should seem to him even more consistent than the anti-capital punishment pro-choice position?

  4. I believe that one can plausibly argue that the pro-life position on abortion is consistent with capital punishment. Pro-life advocates, for the most part, do not argue that killing is never justified, for many believe that there are legitimate instances in which killing is justified, such as in the cases of self-defense and capital punishment, both of which do not entail the killing of an innocent human life.

    Abortion does entail such killing. Hence, the pro-life advocate who believes in capital punishment is saying, "It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being, but the capital offender is not innocent. Therefore, capital punishment is morally justified." Although I have not made up my own mind on the issue of capital punishment, I do not believe it is logically inconsistent with the pro-life position.

In summary, like the argument for the adoption of unwanted children, this one is a blatant example of the ad hominem fallacy, since it is a direct attack upon the character of the pro-life advocate. Instead of dealing with the pro-lifer's arguments against abortion, the pro-choice advocate attacks the pro-lifer.


  1. For example, see Ron Sider, Completely Pro-Life: Building a Consistent Stance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987). [up]

Author: Francis J. Beckwith. Adapted from a series in Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991. Provided with permission by Summit Ministries and the author.

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