Hundreds of thousands marched in Washington D.C. and in cities across the United States in the annual March for Life against abortion on Jan. 19, carrying signs like “Let life happen” and “Let their hearts beat”.
Less than a week later, only a handful of witnesses watched as convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith convulsed and shook vigorously for four minutes after the state of Alabama pumped nitrogen gas into his lungs through a full face mask.
Then he gasped for air for 2-3 minutes, causing his gurney to shake, before he lost consciousness, witnesses reported. In the end, it took 15 minutes for Alabama’s government to kill him, though they had said he would become unconscious within seconds and die within minutes.
Just a day before, the U.S. Supreme Court (with dissent from Justice Sotomayor) also declined to stay Smith’s execution after his attorneys argued that the use of nitrogen gas, then an untested method of killing people, could cause excessive pain and amounts to torture.
This is the same Supreme Court that ruled in 2022 that there is no federal right to abortion, leaving it up to the states to decide such policy.
Alabama reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and enacted a near-total ban on abortions in 2019.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has said: “No governor covets the responsibility of weighing the merits of life or death; but it is a burden I accept as part of my pledge to uphold the laws of this state.”
The contradiction between those who believe that life begins at conception, while also supporting the state-sponsored killing of inmates, has long been debated among conservatives.
The anti-death penalty group Catholic Mobilizing Network writes on its website that the death penalty “violates both the Church’s pro-life teaching and the teaching on the inherent dignity of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God.”
“We do not condone this execution — nor any execution — as a form of justice,” the organization wrote in a press release before Smith’s execution, “Returning death for death only perpetuates cycles of harm and violence.”
However the majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning-independents support the death penalty. A 2021 survey by Pew found that 77 percent favored the death penalty for people who were convicted of murder.
Following Smith’s execution in Alabama, Attorney General Steve Marshall called the killing a “historic” breakthrough.
There are 164 inmates currently on the death row in Alabama, and an estimated 2,400 across the United States.
A total of 17 states allow for the death penalty and have also banned abortion.