The Maryland legislature recently voted to abolish capital punishment in the state, making Maryland the sixth state in the last six years to eliminate the death penalty.
The primary argument for repealing the law is that our justice system is imperfect and it's possible an innocent person could be condemned. Indeed, anti-death penalty activists presented Kirk Bloodsworth, a former death-row inmate, convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. His conviction was overturned on appeal after the court found the prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. However, Bloodsworth was retried and sentenced to two life terms, a conviction later upheld on appeal. In 1993, Bloodsworth was exonerated after DNA linked someone else to the crime.
Death penalty opponents say the law is worth repealing if just one innocent life is saved.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told the Washington Post, "State after state is deciding that the death penalty is simply not worth the risks and costs to retain." He predicts other states will soon follow Maryland's lead. According to the Post, 33 states still retain capital punishment, though "many are using it more sparingly than in the past."
In the debate over the death penalty some have argued that it's a deterrent to crime, which can't be proved, any more than it is provable that abolishing it will encourage some to kill, knowing the worse they will face is life in prison without parole. Others have argued the death penalty is "too expensive" because the court system allows for numerous appeals, a process that takes years.
During the debate in Maryland, Democratic State Senator John C. Astle told the Post, "The idea of strapping someone down and deliberately taking their life -- it was a little difficult for me."
Which brings me to abortion; abortion may not involve the "strapping down" of a convicted felon, but it takes a life.
Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley (D), has been a passionate advocate for repealing the death penalty, but equally as passionate in opposing limits to abortion in his state. "I believe that it is an issue that is best left to the individual conscience of women," he told the Maryland Catholic Conference last October.
In 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute, while the number of abortions in the U.S. remained "virtually unchanged from 2005 when the abortion rate was 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women ...," Maryland, produced "a rate of 29 abortions per 1,000 women ..." Maryland is a liberal state, economically, socially and politically. In announcing his decision to oppose the death penalty, Baltimore Republican Delegate William J. Frank at least sounded consistent when he told the Post: "I'm a reluctant convert to supporting repeal, but a convert nonetheless." Frank cited his "respect for human life."
Respect for human life should mean a murderer ought to forfeit his or her own life as payment for the life taken. Life in prison is unequal punishment. It is not fair to the victim, to the victim's family or even to the killer who has not received his or her "just deserts."
In the case of abortion, obviously there can be no sentence of death or life in prison for the "murderer." But that doesn't mean that Maryland cannot exercise an equivalent respect for life through laws that restrict abortion. Shouldn't the lives of the unborn also be spared a death sentence? If the Maryland legislature can stop the state from taking the lives of murderers, it can adopt restrictions that save the lives of many threatened by abortion.
I have often proposed a deal for my liberal friends who are anti-death penalty but pro-choice: I will surrender my position in favor of the death penalty, if pro-choicers support laws that protect the unborn.
It seems like a fair deal to me, but so far I've gotten no takers. This seems ideologically inconsistent, if they argue all human life is valuable.
The death chambers will close in Maryland for a few murderers, but thousands of abortions will continue in Maryland each year -- more than one million annually nationwide -- "sentencing" innocents to death without due process.
(Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist and panelist on Fox News Watch.)