What exactly is happening for life issues in Texas this week? Notably, Texas reached 500 executions since 1982 Wednesday night, has imprisoned a man for 33 years without any valid conviction (i.e., he is innocent before the law), and saw statehouse theatrics around abortion legislation.
Clearly, Texas has a problem – but its problem is not geographic, it is the result of deep problems of the ‘pro-life’ (i.e., anti-abortion) movement that mandate our attention.
To set the scene:
-Kimberly McCarthy was executed this week, becoming the 500th victim of this practice since Texas’ reinstatement of the ungodly death penalty in 1982. Her execution is the final step in massive legal failings almost inherent to capital cases in America today. The vigor behind Texas’ in-justice system has made it responsible for more than 40% of US executions since 1976, according to the New York Times. The runner-up, Virginia, is nearly four hundred executions less and national momentum swings to the side of life even as Governor Rick Perry employs his sickle of death so deftly (while ironically speaking at the National Right to Life Convention the next day).
-Justice systems in Texas are severely broken, exemplified by the case of Jerry Hartfield who has been imprisoned for 33 years without a valid conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in June 12 that Hartfield’s 1980 conviction, carrying the death penalty, was vacated and never retried as ordered by the courts. An innocent man, illiterate and with an IQ of 51, has spent three decades unjustly detained by the state government. Texas’ state officials now say they may actually try Hartfield for the 1976 crimes – in 2013. Truly understating this sin is the Court’s description of this case as “disturbingly unprofessional.”
-State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered proposed legislation that would close most of Texas’ abortion clinics, and when she was called out of order citizens in the gallery created chaos that made a vote before midnight impossible. Republicans admitted defeated, but Governor Perry already called a new special session to take up the abortion legislation again (and made remarks about Davis). There is a muddling of democratic processes involved, and neither side comes out in a positive light – nor is a comprehensive solution to ending the need for abortions advanced.
Clearly, the anti-abortion community is strong in Texas – yet, this is the same Texas that aggressively attempts to defend unborn life, also executes almost wantonly with little concern for human rights. What is wrong? Why are Texans so adamant in their defense of unborn children, while allowing such flaws to remain in their justice system – and hundreds to die as a result?
It is precisely because the anti-abortion community must be pushed, from within and from those on the outside, to embrace a wider view of life. I wrote recently about ‘resurrecting the Seamless Garment‘ and the need for greater unity around issues of justice. Texas is a prime example of why this is so necessary.
In college, I coordinated several vigils to mark executions in Virginia, including for the ‘DC Sniper’ John Allen Mohammed. Students gathered at midnight to mark the victim’s death, as well as pray for all those injured in the brokenness of our criminal justice system – victims, families, prison officials, legal representatives, etc. A priest spoke a few words after reading the Gospel. A rosary prayed, a litany sung, often campaign of calls and petitions to the governor concluded – it all led to silence in the chapel as the execution began.
Absent in these moments were invited members of Students for Life, the campus’ anti-abortion club, after their leadership said the death penalty was not a life issue to all members. Over the years, this relationship changed through dialogue – and the leadership came to support (and now, I hear, even sponsor) anti-death penalty efforts at our Catholic university. Still, many students most fervently opposed to abortion ideologically oppose the death penalty work – mirroring Catholics at large.
The anti-abortion community must search within, listening to voices from sympathetic outsiders, and join in solidarity with a host of causes – opposing the death penalty, advocating gun control, prison reform, anti-militarism, etc. – that so often find anti-abortion activists opposing those of us working on other justice issues.
Being pro-life is a good and worthy cause. Being pro-life is a comprehensive approach defending all life. Being pro-life requires our dynamism to listen to the Spirit, educating ourselves on issues of injustice we are unaware or uncomfortable with and acting as builders rather than obstacles to the Kingdom on every issue.
Otherwise, the insanity in Texas will be our only fruit – partisan false solutions to abortion, failing justice systems, and a rising body count from state-sanctioned violence.