Apologies if I don't know what I'm talking about. I've never been in a lived situation that had any relevance to either of these issues.
1. Abortion is an interesting topic because it remains illegal in Ireland except in cases where there is a threat to the mother's life. There have been some high-profile cases in the media in recent years - including the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, who was refused an abortion alllegedly because this is a "Catholic country" and ended up dying of sepsis. More recently, a rape victim was refused an abortion and had to be given a Caesarean section (by the time she was assessed by a psychiatrist, it was too late to terminate the pregnancy).
It's a banal truism to say that abortion is a complex issue (as is capital punishment). Personally, I think it should be legal, and have participated in a few of the protests in Dublin precipitated by the Halappanavar case. What others have already said rings true for me, I suppose - that it is better to abort a foetus than to bring an unwanted child into the world, and that women should have control of their own bodies.
There remain, however, some interesting issues in the life v. choice debate; either side stems from fundamental beliefs about personhood that are ultimately irreconcilable. Deciding when a foetus is a person deserving of life strikes me as fairly arbitrary - some people think it begins at conception, others after a certain number of weeks, and others at birth. These seem to me like a priori beliefs that do not, and possibly cannot, have any real justification. And it's from this that the whole notion of murder arises; a pro-choice person can say that abortion is not murder, because the foetus is not a person; a pro-life person can argue that it is murder, because the foetus is. These ideas are so fundamental to either side that they seem impossible to resolve, for me. What I take from it is simply that it is insufficient for either side to argue that abortion is or is not murder, because the argument is reduced to people shouting at each other about their own ideas of personhood.
It's important to acknowledge that cultural ideas about what constitutes personhood are extraordinarily varied, and more importantly, I don't think it's possible to argue that one constitution of "personhood" is more valid than another.
Which brings us to what galen is hinting at below - the problem of infringing on another person's rights because of your own beliefs, and the problems that poses for any democratic system. We do not allow people to commit murder - and that's the rub, because for pro-life people, foetuses are people and abortion is murder.
I think it is also important to consider that religion is embedded into society, rather than existing as some sort of separate stratum.
2. Capital punishment is a big issue, though not a salient one in Ireland (where execution is no longer carried out as a means of punishment). It seems reasonable enough to suggest that executing someone is a better idea than imprisoning them for the remainder of their life, whether for economic reasons or moral ones (is imprisoning someone for decades really better than killing them?) Naturally, it seems clearer in cases (possibly imaginary) in which the criminal has committed multiple heinous crimes (like a recidivist murderer rapist). Sort of what bioemerl is saying.
But the death penalty has its own problems, namely that of sufficiently ascertaining guilt, without which innocent people can and have been executed. That, or the extreme cost of keeping someone on death row, because the process isn't exactly quick (that's today; in England a hundred years ago, it usually took about three weeks for someone to get hanged, rather than twenty years). Consider the Japanese man who was on death row for decades before being released - and in Japan, they apparently don't tell you when it's coming, so for him every day could have been his last.
Then, of course, there are the logistical matters of the execution itself, although I think they're secondary to the moral justification of capital punishment in the first place. Naturally, I think it's best if it's quick and painless. I remember hearing about a recent execution in the US in which it took two hours for the victim to die, which is quite horrific. Maybe bring back the guillotine?
Capital punishment, to my ill-informed mind, seems like too much of a headache, really.
I did have an interesting conversation about corporal punishment recently, though, in which the other person claimed that whipping would in many cases be preferable to a prison sentence. It's extraordinarily painful, yes, but after the healing period the criminal can integrate back into society, instead of going to prison, or "crook college", and building up a network of criminal contacts for when they're back on the streets. I actually think it's a very interesting idea.
We do have to think about the purpose of imprisonment, which I think has a hell of a lot more to do with attempting to remove people from society than it does to reform them or even to act as a deterrent (which I think 25 lashes probably would do), and, in the States at least, with feeding money into private companies.
OftenBen mentions the problem of granting a particular body (i.e. the judicial system) power over human life, when perhaps they are not to be trusted. I haven't given any thought to this before.