The Abolition of Capital Punishment in Illinois


BY NICHOLAS NEAL

The abolition of the death penalty in Illinois began when Governor George Ryan placed a moratorium on capital punishment in the state in 2000, after seeing an alarming number of death row inmates being exonerated. Eleven years later, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill officially abolishing capital punishment in Illinois. It was then up to Pat Quinn to sign it. Now, although Governor Quinn is a Democrat, he had previously spoken in favor of capital punishment and his wish for it simply to be reformed rather than abolished. When the bill came to his desk, he did not immediately sign or veto it, but rather announced that he would be weighing the views of both sides on this issue.

Along with obvious capital punishment opponents such as the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, and the ACLU, religious and pro-life groups also called for abolition. These groups included the Catholic Conference of Illinois and my college pro-life group "Saluki Respect Life." I remember the president of our group giving us letters that had been composed by the local Newman Center, encouraging Quinn to abolish capital punishment. In addition to these letters, we sent Quinn an email in Saluki Respect Life's name recommending abolition.

The New York Times reported that Quinn's evaluation of this issue had involved a variety of activities, from examining cases of exonerations because of DNA evidence to discussing the abolition question at the dinner table. When he finally decided to change his position and abolish capital punishment, however, Quinn cited one influence by name, the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the former archbishop of Chicago (Quinn was even photographed holding Bernardin's famous book The Gift of Peace after signing the death penalty abolition bill into law). Although not the first to come up with the concept, Cardinal Bernardin was one of the first to use the phrase "consistent life ethic." He linked issues such as abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and nuclear war under a unified moral vision known as the "seamless garment."

I am definitely proud of my state for doing this, as was John-Paul Deddens of the Illinois Students for Life. The death penalty has not yet been fully abolished in Illinois, however. Yes, the death penalty that is carried out in prisons has been ended, but the other death penalty -- the one that is carried out in abortion clinics all around my state, against young human beings whose only crime is existing inconveniently -- has yet to be abolished.

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