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."