Political paradox

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Regular readers of this column know, sometimes to their great chagrin, that I tend to be fairly liberal in my political leanings.

What most of them probably don't know is that on some issues I'm actually quite conservative. The dichotomy of abortion and the death penalty in America is perhaps the strongest example.

Let me begin by saying that I'm fortunate to be sitting here, typing out these words for you to consider. I could very easily have never been born. My mother was a 14-year-old, unmarried, dirt-poor girl in rural Arkansas in 1969. I don't know for certain but my mother and others hinted that my widowed grandfather wanted her to have an abortion and that she refused. Instead, she chose to give me life, even if it meant sacrificing what remained of her own childhood. Even if it meant sacrificing the dreams that she must have carried, as we all do, for her own future.

Given that context, it's no wonder that I feel the way I do about abortion. I do acknowledge the pro-choice argument that a woman should be free to do as she pleases with her body, but what about the rights of unborn children? Any parent who's ever tried intentionally to conceive a child knows that you don't consider yourself a parent beginning the day that child is born; you consider yourself a parent the day you get the news that the child will be born. To say that the child isn't a person with its own inalienable rights until the actual physical birth is illogical, in my opinion.

Yes, there are extreme cases. Rape. Incest. Cases where the mother's life is endangered. But there also are alternatives to abortion, in most cases, and I believe those alternatives should be employed.

The flip side of the abortion debate is the controversy surrounding the death penalty. It's cruel and inhumane, opponents of the death penalty say -- many of them the same folks who support a woman's right to choose abortion.

I don't believe the death penalty as exercised in America is without faults. I believe it is applied disproportionately to minorities. I believe it is sometimes applied in cases involving innocent defendants. I believe it sometimes is applied to people who lack the mental capacity to understand their crimes and the consequences thereof. I'm not sure it has significant value as a deterrent for violent crime. But I do believe that there are evil people in our society who commit acts so atrocious and heinous that they deserve the ultimate punishment, and in those cases I'm not particularly concerned that the punishment be gentle or humane.

During my career as a journalist, I have covered two executions. The second was the execution of convicted murderer Charles Singleton in 2004 -- one of the last executions carried out in Arkansas before legal challenges over lethal injection effectively stopped the state from applying the death penalty for almost 11 years now.

Singleton was convicted of stabbing a female grocery store owner to death in 1975. A witness testified that the victim identified Singleton before he died.

Singleton's case drew national attention because he suffered from schizophrenia, a mental disease that rendered him legally insane without medication. His lawyer argued that the state could not forcibly medicate Singleton to keep him sane enough to be executed. Five times, a date was set for Singleton's execution only to be stayed by one judge or another. Ultimately, Singleton himself chose to end the legal challenges and accept his punishment.

I don't begrudge condemned inmates their right to challenge their prescribed punishment. But I do struggle with the idea that some of the same folks who argue so passionately for a convicted murderer's right to life don't believe an unborn child possesses that same right.