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It is an after-dinner discussion of politics, ethics, and humanity on a warm summer evening in St. Simons, Georgia. About sixteen very conscientious and progressive-minded friends are sitting at a long candlelit table on a screened porch, surrounded by live oaks and Spanish moss. The topic has drifted to efforts of right-wing extremists to prohibit abortion in any circumstance. A definitive moral argument for their position eludes us, and their seemingly incongruous position on capital punishment is mentioned. Suddenly a very bright, generally soft-spoken veterinarian asks:

Doesn't every fetus deserve the right to die in an electric chair?

There is an abrupt silence, perhaps half a second in duration. A few fleeting glimpses up and down the table allow scattered flashes of nervous eye-contact. All are turning the question over and over in their minds, making sure they really heard what they thought they heard. Perhaps some are listening for the classic rimshot, but there is only a distant, partly suffocated gasp somewhere along the table - or maybe it was a critter scurrying in the saltmarsh across the yard. Then roars of part-jittery, part-belly laughter erupt.

We’re still analyzing it over breakfast the next morning. It epitomizes the hypocrisy of the radical right, rigidly opposing abortion but ardently promoting capital punishment. It reveals “sanctity of life” arguments in issues of abortion to be farcical. It suggests that the real concern of right-wing reactionaries is the preservation of presumed innocence and the punishment of perceived guilt. It somehow short-circuits the moral arbitration of both issues with one grand and ghastly joke.

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