William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Pre-Dobbs legislative efforts and states’ reactions in the immediate aftermath of Dobbs indicate the post-Dobbs reality that deeply conservative states will seek to criminalize abortion and impose extremely harsh sentences for such crimes, up to and including death. This Article addresses that reality. Initially, this Article illustrates that abortion and capital punishment are like opposite sides of the same coin, and it is a handful of states leading the counter majoritarian efforts on both topics. After outlining the position of each state in the nation that retains capital punishment on capital sentencing and abortion, the Article identifies the most extreme states on both issues, referenced as “Punitive States.”

Then, addressing the post-Dobbs reality that Punitive States could attempt to punish abortion by death, this Article shows that the current capital sentencing framework used across the country is incompatible with abortion offenses. The aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances, if applied to abortion offenses, would not serve their constitutional purposes. Therefore, this Article argues, capital sentences imposed under the current framework for abortion offenses would stand in violation of the Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Further, this Article argues that attempts to write abortion-specific capital sentencing procedures would prove to be acts in futility. Thus, the Article ultimately concludes that death is not a viable punishment for abortion.