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?
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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: Change.org 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 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: Stanford.edu: 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: 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: KTVN Reno: Study: More Women Skip Reproductive Services to Save Money