Magic numbers

Mach 2 was the magic number. Like 60 homers. Like batting 400. Like the 4-minute mile. You’ll never break that. The press likes a nice, round number. After that, they don’t care, until the next magic number. —comment by a reporter in The Right Stuff

Sometime in the coming week, either Robin Lovitt of Virginia, Eric Nance of Arkansas, or John Hicks of Ohio will briefly make national headlines. All three are scheduled to be executed. One will draw the short straw to become the 1000th death-row inmate put to death since 1976, when the Supreme Court lifted its objections to state-sanctioned executions. (See the Associated Press story for more information.)

Sometime in the coming week, an unmarried, 23-year-old woman will walk into a clinic pregnant and leave childless, free from the responsibilities of motherhood. Only God knows what number her dead fetus will be — the number of legal US abortions since 1973’s Roe decision hovers at about 45 million, a number too huge for anyone to track.

The press long ago lost interest in abortion statistics, but execution number 1,000 is a magic number with a lot of emotion behind it. I think the media will wring every shred of news from the event.

And, they should. None of us should take the shedding of blood lightly.

Many conservative Christians will, unfortunately, shrug and move on. Most conservative Christians support the death penalty, while at the same time opposing abortion. This straddle leaves us open to charges of hypocrisy — it’s one of the reasons why some, myself included, oppose both abortion and capital punishment.

But that doesn’t mean the two are morally equivalent. It strains credulity to equate these policies — the moral imbalance is just too staggering: For every murderer tried, sentenced and executed, 45,000 innocent children are also killed. You’d have to be numb, or dense, not to grasp the difference.

It can be hard to make statistics breathe. Here are some factoids that might help. A few compare attitudes between the infamous blue and red states:

  • Fewer people are executed in the US each year than die from lightning strikes.
  • The number of children aborted annually is larger than the combined US deaths from heart failure, cancer and stroke, the top-three killers of adults.
  • Blue-state Americans have 60% of all abortions.
  • In Blue-state America, 1 baby out ot every 4 is aborted.
  • In Red-state America, 1 baby out of every 7 is aborted.
  • In New York City, the nation’s abortion capital, more than 40% of all pregnancies are aborted.
  • The most common profile of a woman seeking an abortion is: unmarried, white, in her early twenties with no children.
  • Fewer than 8% of abortions are performed because of rape, incest, or a serious risk to the mother’s health. The other 92% are “elective.”
    (Source: US Centers for Disease Control, Alan Guttmacher Institute)

I began this post talking about capital punishment. The Judeo-Christian belief is that all human life is sacred. Capital punishment returns us to an ethical system that is pre-Jesus, when retribution was the order of the day. As public policy, capital punishment fails to take into account the New Testament’s focus on grace and redemption.

Further, execution is a unique kind of sentence in American jurisprudence: It is not designed to restore the civil order, but to avenge the blood shed by victims of the crime. This has a certain poetic appeal, but modern justice deliberately moved away from such a system in order to make justice more humane. Criminal penalties are never linked to the nature of the crime. In other words, we don’t chop off hands for stealing, or tongues for lying. Except in the case of capital crimes, that is.

On the upcoming observance of the 1,000th execution, I have a suggestion.

Let’s attempt to make a deal with the left. Christian conservatives will agree to repeal the death penalty in order to stake out a consistent, pro-life position. No more worries about executing innocent people. No more wading through decades of appeals. All death sentences will be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole, thus protecting the public from bad people.

In exchange, the left would give up the right to all elective abortions. Abortion would still be permitted as a remedy for rape, incest, or a genuine threat to the mother’s health. All other babies would be carried to term and given up for adoption, if they were still unwanted.

It would never work, of course. For all the rhetoric about “safe, legal and rare,” it’s just a slogan that fits nicely on protest signs.

Executions and abortions are bloody and barbaric rituals for a nation that claims to be enlightened, and Christian.

Update: Robin Lovitt of Virginia has had his death sentence overturned by Gov. Mark Warner. A court employee destroyed the DNA evidence in the case, making it impossible to examine in the appeals process. Warner cited the missing physical evidence as his reason for sparing Lovitt from his scheduled execution.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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  1. I’m with you on this one, Charlie. I think the Christian right has a big blind spot in the area of capital punishment– and it weakens their position on the abortion issue. Coming out as consistently pro-life, across the board, would add moral strength to their position on abortion.

    Many Christians do not seem to be able to separate the church from the state,in their own minds.

  2. Amen.

  3. I really appreciated the usefulness of your abortion map. I’m going to link to this post in my own blog if you don’t mind. It’s incredible how people just don’t seem to care about the abortion rates anymore. Imagine killing 767 for every 1000 born? Imagine telling yourself that it’s ok to do it! Thanks for the information.