Executing Abortionists? Dana Milbank made quite a whopper on NPR's Dianne Rehm show earlier today. In a discussion of the politics of judicial nominations and abortion, Milbank made the point that Congress is likely to address many abortion-related issues in coming months beyond whether judges would support or overturn Roe v. Wade. Fair enough. But among the proposals Milbank said would be up for debate was "the death penalty for abortionists." Yes, you read that correctly. Milbank said there were serious legislative proposals to execute abortion providers. This is both fanciful and absurd -- fanciful because there is no such proposal under serious consideration, and absurd because it would be legally impossible to impose the death penalty for something that cannot be severely limited, let alone prohibited. Milbank is hardly an uninformed commentator. He's covered politics for the Washington Post for some time, so he must know better than to suggest the Republican majority might seek to execute abortionists. Some conservative commentators have criticized Milbank for liberal "opinion journalism." Today he certainly earned that reputation. Note: I am aware that some of the more extreme abortion opponents would support the death penalty for abortion, but that was not what Milbank said. Rather, he claimed this was among the specific abortion-related issues that Congress would soon debate. Note also that I missed the very end of the program, so if he later clarified the statement, I will be happy to make a note of it.
What about Tom Coburn? Several readers have pointed out that Milbank was probably referring to newly elected Senator Tom Coburn when he suggested Republicans would seek the imposition of the death penalty for abortion providers on the Diane Rehm show today. As I noted in my initial post, some pro-lifers do advocate this extreme position, and Coburn is among them. Nonetheless, I still believe Milbank's statement was inaccurate and quite misleading. (In fairness to Milbank, however, I should note that his statement was slightly different than what I quoted from memory in my prior post.) Here is Milbank's comment in full, which I have transcribed from the streaming audio of the program (at 29:25 on the Realaudio stream):
In a way I think the Roe v Wade question is a bit of a red herring in that it's a long term issue. We have a whole lot of legislative issues on abortion, parental consent, fetal pain legislation, some favor the death penalty for abortion providers, efforts to stamp out all abortions in the second trimester. These are legislative issues that are much more near term than the eventual Roe v. Wade decision.Some might argue that Milbank made an accurate statement, as Coburn does favor the death penalty for abortionists, and said so during the campaign. But this ignores the context. Milbank listed "the death penalty for abortion providers" as "much more near term" than the potential reversal of Roe . This is patently false - as Milbank almost certainly knows. It would be possible to impose any criminal punishment, capital or otherwise, on abortion providers until such time as Roe is overturned (if it ever is). More broadly, it is highly misleading to suggest that every fringe position held by every member of a party's congressional delegation is an active "legislative issue." Would it be fair for Republicans to run ads claiming that a Democratic takeover of Congress would place every crazy idea embraced by Rep. Maxine Waters on the agenda? Could the GOP claim that reelecting Rep. Dennis Kucinich would mean there would be "near term" debate over creating a "Department of Peace"? Of course not. Milbank is a highly educated and quite experienced political reporter, and he should have known better than to make such a comment.