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Note from the editor: Our series and the candidates

December 12, 2007 |  7:58 am

Today’s installment of our series on American values at the heart of the presidential campaign highlights two long-running debates and one emerging one. For the paper’s editorial board, abortion and capital punishment are not close calls: We steadfastly champion the right of women to have abortions, as we have since Roe vs. Wade was first handed down in 1973, a 7-2 decision written by one appointee of Richard Nixon (Harry Blackmun) and under the chief justiceship of another (Warren Burger). On that January day, we declared the ruling “sensible…persuasive by both its historical and legal arguments.” And though some of Roe’s legal reasoning has frayed over time, we stand by our original appraisal.

Our death penalty views evolved more slowly. This paper supported capital punishment back in its most conservative years, but by the time the California Supreme Court struck down the penalty in 1972, we hailed the court’s "persuasive clarity and wisdom." Over time, we have refined our thoughts on capital punishment, which we now view as the exercise of extreme and unwarranted state power. The libertarians among us are outraged by that alone. For those less bothered by state power, there are also the inequities in the death penalty’s application and the thin evidence of its deterrent effect, both of which fuel our belief that capital punishment is impractical and immoral and should be abolished.

But those are debates on familiar ground, and we face new questions at the same time that we revisit old ones. Advances in genetic and reproductive biology have expanded the range and meaning of the debate over the government’s role in protecting and taking life. As we argue today, our next president needs to do more than master the historic debates over abortion and capital punishment. He or she must advance a compassionate and scientifically sound program for guiding the national conversation on what life may become.

We’ve yet to hear that from any of the candidates. Fortunately, the campaign is just beginning.

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