Roundup: Obama Goes to Notre Dame

Emily Douglas

Obama gives commencement address at Notre Dame, engages issue of abortion; new Gallup poll finds majority of Americans identify as "pro-life."

Obama Gives Commencement Address at Notre Dame; Engages Issue of Abortion
Obama headed to South Bend, Indiana, on Sunday to deliver the
commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.  There he
directly engaged the question of abortion, putting it in context by
comparing it to other issues that deeply divide Americans: 

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal
passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps
needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical
pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves
unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts.
Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in
admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the
parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their
son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.


The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it
possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a
vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How
does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we
consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held
convictions on the other side?

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion…


So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking
abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more
available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their
child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with
abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that
all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound
science, as well as respect for the equality of women."


Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion
can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it –
indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject
are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level,
the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue
to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely
we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

You can read the full text of the speech and watch video here

While far-right Catholics like Patrick Reilly of the Cardinal Newman Society
predictably panned Notre Dame for refusing to rescind the invitation,
pundits observed that the President didn’t shy away from the criticism of his appearance and directly engaged their concerns.

In the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza writes,

Rather than ignore those who opposed his presence on campus, Obama
chose instead to directly engage his critics — telling a story from
his 2004 Senate bid in which a pro-life doctor had written to him
asking that he tone down the the rhetoric on his campaign Web site that
condemned "right wing ideologues" seeking to take away a woman’s right
to choose. Obama read the language himself and ordered it changed.

That experience taught him that "when we open up our hearts and our
minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe
precisely what we believe — that’s when we discover at least the
possibility of common ground."

On abortion, the common ground Obama proposed was a joint effort by
both sides of the issue to reduce the number of abortions in the
country, cut the number of unwanted pregnancies and make adoption more

"As a pro-choice Catholic who attended a Jesuit school, I was surprised
and pleased to see that that a school with Catholic affiliation would
allow him to speak," wrote Daniela Ramirez of Human Rights Watch on Huffington Post.

HuffPo’s Katharine Zaleski interviewed Brennan Bollman, Notre Dame’s valedictorian. "In an interview with the Huffington Post, Bollman stressed that her
peers do not view the president’s overall values as inconsistent with
Catholicism. In fact, Bollman says Obama is practicing Catholic values
in his administration. Like Jesus, Bollman says, Obama is trying to
invite ‘everyone to the table.’"

Finally, Peter Baker’s New York Times liveblog of the event includes coverage of the protesters’ interruptions. 

New Gallup Poll Finds Majority of Americans Identify As "Pro-Life"
last week a new Gallup poll found, for the first time since 1995, that
a majority of Americans — 51% — identify as "pro-life."  It’s a
dramatic change since last year, when 50% were pro-choice and 44%
pro-life.  (This year just 42% identify as pro-choice.)  You can see
the graph of identifications over time at Bonnie Erbe’s US News & World Report blog.

At the New York Times, Tobin Harshaw offers a comprehensive roundup of interpretations of the Gallup poll.  At the Atlantic, Marc Ambinder reminds us to look beyond the label: "The abortion debate in America is about policy, not about those
words – they do not encapsulate, for instance, whether a majority want
abortion to be legal for pregnant women whose lives is threatened by
the pregnancy in the third trimester. Some people who call themselves
‘pro-life’ might say abortion should be legal in that case.”  In fact, the same poll found
that only 22% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal "in all
cases."  Fifty-three percent say it should be legal under "certain

Other News to Note

May 17: Star Press: Safe-sex education? Schools say no

May 15: BeliefNet: "The old tactics have failed"

May 17: Houston Chronicle: Taking birth out of budget

May 16: Global Health: Withdrawal – Not As Stupid As We Thought?

May 14: Colorado Springs Independent: Let’s talk about sex

May 16: North-west Evening Mail: Teens urged to heed safe sex message

May 15: Reuters Health: Contraceptive use, reproductive patterns may play role in etiology of cancer

May 16: Daily Monitor (Uganda): Do you care about contraception?

May 16: Times of India: Emergency pills in demand as condom sales dips

May 16: Visalia Times-Delta: Tulare County teen birth rates remain high

May 17: Houston Chronicle: Perry’s agenda pending in final stretch

May 17: Catholic News Agency: Law on abortion would grant amnesty to promoters of death in Spain

May 17: WaPo: Gay-Marriage Issue Awaits Court Pick Same-Sex Unions Supplant Abortion As Social Priority for Conservatives

May 16: OneNewsNow: Kansas abortion clinic case goes to high court

May 15: U.S. News and World Report: Growing Anti-Abortion Ranks Will Keep Republicans Marginalized

May 17: Manila Times: Passing, not killing, the RHB

May 15: Reuters: No Way, Baby

May 15: BeliefNet: U.S. Catholics: Let Obama speak (and keep abortion legal)

May 14: Daily KOS: RCC looking for diverse pro-choice candidates

May 14: How Many Catholics Follow the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception?

May 14: Dallas Morning News: Out-of-wedlock births and the white overclass

May 15: Catholic News Agency: Chilean government rejects foreign pressure to legalize abortion

May 14: HuffPo: Spain’s Move To Fully Legalize Abortion Presents Clash With Spanish Catholic Church

May 14: Chicago Tribune: Is Obama an `extremist’ on abortion?

May 14: Daily News: NARAL Goes Early For Gillibrand

May 15: NYTimes: On Abortion, Obama Is Drawn Into Debate He Hoped to Avoid

May 14: AP: Neb. senators advance abortion ultrasound measure 

May 14: KTVN Reno: Study: More Women Skip Reproductive Services to Save Money

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”