Virginia Seeks to Abolish Death Penalty

A vigil in protest against an execution in Virginia in 2009. Michael Reynolds: EPA

On February 21, Virginia lawmakers voted in favor of eliminating the death penalty. Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the bill into law. This move to end the death penalty by the Commonwealth of Virginia is historic, and once signed by the Governor, Virginia will be the first southern state to outlaw capital punishment.

Dating back to colonial Jamestown in 1608, Virginia has one of the oldest death penalties on record and has executed roughly 14,000 people, which is more than any other state with a history of using capital punishment. While Virginia has not imposed a death sentence since 2011, nor has it executed someone since 2017, it holds the highest percentage of death row inmates than any other U.S. state and ranks number two in highest number of executions just behind Texas.

Once Governor Northam signs the bill into law, Virginia will become the 23rd state to end capital punishment. The law will take effect in July, and the two men currently on death row will have their sentences commuted to life in prison without parole.

During arguments for and against the bill, Democrats called for the end of capital punishment and a few Republicans agreed. However, a majority of Republicans pushed back, arguing individuals responsible for heinous crimes should be executed, and the death penalty can offer justice for the victims of their families.

The death penalty does not deliver justice for the victims or their families. It instead inflicts more pain and suffering on another family and leads to another victim. For the GOP to put emphasis on the sanctity of life, they are the first ones to seek vengeance through a death sentence.

The Republican party has sought to ban abortions through heartbeat bills and actively favored a more conservative judiciary with the hopes of one day overturning Roe v. Wade. In the eyes of the GOP, the unborn child must be protected at all cost, but given a chance to abolish the death penalty, the GOP will double down on the continuation of using it.

If Republicans are going to be pro-life, they must be pro-life for the entire life. They must be womb-to-tomb, regardless of the person’s age, race, religion, or gender. To assign terms and conditions on when that person has a right to live or die is abhorrent to what it means to be pro-life.

When Republicans seek to defend the death penalty as a means for delivering justice, they are no longer pro-life. Justice is not found through administration of capital punishment, and supporting the use of state administered executions because of mistakes made, addictions had, or other troubles facing those who end up on death row sends the opposite message of choosing life.

In Virginia, Republicans have a chance to choose life by supporting the abolishment of the death penalty. The only difference between those sitting on death row and a baby at conception is the length of time they’ve been on this earth. Supporting the outlawing of the death penalty will lend more credibility to the current GOP’s pro-life movement. After all, the next person to die by state execution may just be a person whose life in the womb they once fought so vigorously to defend.

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