You have probably heard by now that the United States government is about to perform its first execution of a woman in seventy years. Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be executed on January twelfth for murdering a woman to kidnap her baby. She has thirty-six days to live.
I hope you’ve also taken the time to find out who Lisa Montgomery is, and the circumstances surrounding her crime.
Lisa Montgomery is profoundly mentally ill, has been diagnosed with head injuries, and is a victim of severe trauma. She requires heavy medication at all times. Montgomery was raped by family members and then sexually trafficked by her mother from the time she was a child, at which point she started dissociating. She was beaten and urinated on by her rapists and later abused by two husbands. She was forced to undergo a tubal ligation by her stepbrother, whom she was forced to marry by her mother, and this seems to have triggered a psychotic break. In that state, she strangled Bobbi Jo Stinnett and cut the premature infant from her womb; then she took the baby home and pretended (or believed) it was hers. The baby was later recovered alive. Montgomery was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death. A jury who had not been told of her past trauma and separate diagnoses until after her conviction sentenced her to die.
Lisa Montgomery, a victim of child molestation, had her underwear taken away when she was scheduled for execution. This has, understandably, exacerbated her mental health problems. She is going to be transported to the United States Penitentiary at Terra Haute, an all men’s prison, to await her execution, even though her post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered when she’s in the presence of men. The executioners will strap that traumatized, delusional woman to a gurney. They will inject her with a sedative that doesn’t always work in the first place and that has been known to wear off before the victim dies. Then, without making sure the sedative worked, they will inject her with a paralysis drug that will keep anyone watching the execution from witnessing any unpleasant muscle spasms. That’ll paralyize her lungs, causing a slow suffocation to begin. Finally, she’ll get a dose of potassium chloride which will cause agonizing burning pain through her entire body if that sedative isn’t doing its job, but she won’t be able to scream thanks to the paralysis drug. The potassium chloride will burn its way through her veins until it stops her heart. The execution will take seven minutes or up to two hours, depending on how many things go wrong.
Of course this isn’t the first time in America that people with severe mental heath struggles have been put to death. It happens quite a bit. In 2015, for example, the state of Missouri killed Andrew Brennan, a decorated veteran with severe PTSD; and Cecil Clayton, who had dementia and was missing 20% of his frontal lobe. In 1992 the state of Arkansas executed Ricky Ray Rector, who had a destroyed frontal lobe from a suicide attempt and who was so impaired that he saved the dessert from his last meal “for later” before being taken to the execution chamber.
This case is getting more attention because Montgomery is a woman, and because other women who have committed similar crimes while psychotic have not been sentenced to death, and because it’s another federal execution. The Trump administration has been rushing federal executions ever since the president lost the election.
This is what the darling of the pro-life movement is rushing to accomplish before he’s out of power– with the help of practicing Catholic attorney general Bill Barr. This was their priority in the last few weeks of the administration. This is what they want their legacy to be. Not commuting death sentences, but rushing them through. Not helping people, but hurting them. Not doing anything that could conceivably make the world more just, but torturing a psychotic woman to death.
And all this while Americans are dropping dead in massive numbers from a pandemic the president tried to downplay instead of fight. We’re approaching three thousand deaths per day– about equal to the number of people killed by abortion in America per day according to some metrics. We could see four thousand deaths from COVID every day by the time this is over.
Meanwhile, Father Frank Pavone, the disgraced founder of Priests for Life and the figurehead of the American pro-life movement, is holding downright idolatrous “prayer vigils” trying to magically get President Trump a second term. People are still being told they’ll go to hell if they don’t support the Republican party, no matter what nightmare candidate the Republican party puts before them.
Abortion is deeply wrong. So is the death penalty, especially in the deliberately cruel way we’re seeing it practiced right now. So is ignoring and downplaying a pandemic when it’s your responsibility to take charge and help save as many lives as you can. So is letting people starve to death when you could have fed them. So is poisoning their water supply. So is war. So is murder like the one that Lisa Montgomery committed. They’re all deeply wrong because life is sacred and ought to be protected. That remains true even in this horrendous mess when we have no leadership who will really defend life. What’s wrong remains wrong.
The pro-life movement– and here, as always, I don’t mean the men and women working hard on the ground, trying to find ways to help women make better choices and to take care of them and their families, I mean the great big political money-gobbling machine known as the pro-life movement– is a scam. It’s not only a scam but a form of idolatry. They will sacrifice anything in the name of their pet political figureheads, and this winter they are sacrificing a mentally ill woman who was abused her entire life.
“To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return-that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart,” said C. S. Lewis, writing the character of the demon Screwtape. The devil dangles vast power in front of people, if only those people will sacrifice their principles, and cheats them out of everything they wanted. The pro-life movement in America is now responsible for full blown human sacrifices to one man’s ego, and they haven’t even saved unborn children.
It will be Lisa Montgomery’s turn to be sacrificed in thirty-six days.
I don’t know how to express how wrong this is. I can only say again and again: it’s gravely wrong. It’s sin. It’s pure evil. And may God have mercy on our country.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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