Home / Execution Date Could Present South Dakotans With Philosophical Quandry

Execution Date Could Present South Dakotans With Philosophical Quandry

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A court ruling today setting South Dakota's first execution in 59 years just two weeks from now could pose some interesting questions for the pro-life movement in South Dakota, particularly Catholics.

The court order allows Elijah Page to be executed at the South Dakota Penitentiary the week of August 28. Page pleaded guilty to the March 2000 kidnapping and brutal beating death of Chester Poage and received the death penalty. His death sentence was affirmed by the South Dakota Supreme Court in January. Page then sent a handwritten letter to the judge, his attorneys and the news media anouncing that he did not want to pursue any further appeals. The ruling determined that Page was competent to make that decision.

What makes this a bit more interesting is the national attention focused on South Dakota this year after its legislature adopted the country's most restrictive abortion law. The law bans all abortions except those necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant mother. In signing the bill, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds recognized that it was passed as a "direct challenge" to Roe v. Wade. The legislation has been referred to a public vote in November.

Because the legislation was promoted in part on the necessity of protecting and preserving life, Page's scheduled execution may lead to pro-life advocates being asked how far their stance extends. What makes it a bit tougher for Gov. Rounds is that he is a Catholic.

Although it does not appear the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls has issued a formal statement, its Catholic Advocate Network posted a notice July 31 asking Catholics to contact Rounds and "request that he intercede and prevent the execution of Elijah Page." A link to the "action alert" appears on the Diocese's "Respect Life" web page, which is generally devoted to anti-abortion issues. The notice also states, "As a society, we must seek solutions to crime that respect the dignity of every human life, including the hardened criminal, and preserve justice in this state through non-violent means."

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About Tim Gebhart

After 30 years of practicing law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs. Tim Gebhart is now perfecting the art of doing little more than reading, writing and sleeping.
  • Baronius

    The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is always wrong, and that there are possible conditions under which capital punishment may be permitted. There’s no contradiction.

    A person may take a life in self-defense. A state may do so as well. If a criminal is too dangerous to be housed, he may be executed. If that sounds horrible, well, it really is. Especially with the kinds of governments we’ve seen in the last hundred years. So (as I understand it) the Catholic Church hasn’t changed its position on capital punishment, but it’s developed a strong bias against the state exercising that kind of power.

  • It seems to me that the position of the Catholic Church is far more consistent than that of fundamentalist right to lifers who are often pro execution but opposed to abortion.

    Of course, it’s also consistent to be universally pro-death, a brave stand which only a few of us are willing to take.


  • K.Dee

    What will Pro-Life mean in this case? Seems that it doesn’t apply to victims of war, or doctors who perform abortions or women who have the right to choose. I’m so confused… I know, how about Pro-Life when it suits our politics… that’s the ticket…

  • Baronius

    K.Dee – You’ll find that a lot of people oppose both abortion and the death penalty.

    There have been seven murders of abortion clinic workers in 35 years. Arguably, that’s one of the safest jobs in the world. Three of the deaths occurred within a few months in Pensacola, Fla, which is also the UFO sighting capital of the world. Not exactly mainstream. You won’t find one in a thousand pro-lifers who condone such actions.

    I don’t know to what you are referring, when you mention “women who have the right to choose”. As for victims of war, that’s obviously a very complex issue. But cutting through it as quickly as possible, do you believe that war is ever justified? Or self-defense?

  • -E

    Congrats! This article has been selected as one of this week’s Editors’ Picks.