WASHINGTON (BP)–President Obama called for common ground on abortion during his May 17 speech at the University of Notre Dame’s graduation ceremony, but pro-life advocates said his policies have not fostered such cooperation.
The president received an honorary doctor of laws degree and delivered the commencement address in an appearance that produced an outpouring of protests from Roman Catholics in the United States.
Obama has acted to overturn pro-life policies in his first four months as president after a legislative career fully supportive of unrestricted abortion rights. Notre Dame may be the country’s leading Catholic university. While the Catholic Church — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — is strongly pro-life, many members of the church back legal abortion.
The president noted the dispute and called for both sides of the controversial issue to have open hearts and minds in order to “discover at least the possibility of common ground.”
He is not suggesting “the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” Obama said, adding, “[T]he 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.”
Obama urged both sides of the abortion debate “to work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions,” to “reduce unintended pregnancies,” to “make adoption more available” and to “provide care and support for women who do carry their children 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 not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women,” the president said.
The president’s actions as president, however, contradict his call at Notre Dame for common ground, some pro-lifers said after his speech.
Obama’s “recent budget proposal to Congress fails to respect the consciences of taxpayers who are morally opposed to funding the destruction of human life,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life candidates. “Further, in working and advocating to fully fund abortions, the president undermines his own purported goal of reducing the ‘need’ for abortion.”
Americans should receive leadership from “someone who will help find common ground through civil discourse,” Dannenfelser said in a written statement. “Yet there is no evidence of an open mind in President Obama’s recommendation that Congress fund abortion on demand with taxpayer dollars. … True common ground exists. He is just not standing on it.”
Of the president’s call to base policies on “sound science,” bioethics specialist Wesley Smith said: “[H]ow about starting with the biological fact that embryos and fetuses are living human organisms? … Pretending that human embryos and fetuses are not ‘human life’ … may not resolve these contentious ethical issues, but if our policies are going to reflect ‘sound science,’ so that we can create policies based on ‘clear ethics,’ then the biological facts should quit being fudged.”
While Obama says “moderate things,” his administration “acts immoderately,” Smith added. When the president has had the opportunity to “steer a moderate course,” he has “rejected the moderate course,” Smith said.
Smith cited two examples of Obama’s rejection of moderation: 1) His reversal of President Bush’s ban on federal funds for destructive embryonic stem cell research while rescinding his predecessor’s order to fund alternatives to ESCR, and 2) his initiation of the process of revoking Bush administration conscience protections for health-care providers.
Since taking office, Obama also has struck down a ban on federal funding of organizations that perform and promote abortions overseas, restored money to a United Nations organization tied to China’s coercive population control program and proposed in the new budget a repeal of the prohibition on the use of both federal and local funds for abortions in the District of Columbia.
Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama and to invite him to speak at commencement elicited protests from bishops, priests and members of the Roman Catholic Church in the weeks leading to the event. Some dissents continued on the campus during the weekend.
During commencement, a few protesters interrupted the president’s speech with shouts. One protester said, “Abortion is murder! Stop killing children!” shortly after the president began speaking, according to a White House transcript published by National Public Radio. The school reported 38 protesters were arrested on campus, according to the Chicago Tribune. About two dozen Notre Dame seniors decided not to attend their own commencement and instead participated in a campus prayer vigil at the same time, the Tribune reported.
Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama cost the school another high-profile commencement speaker.
Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard University law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, informed Notre Dame President John Jenkins April 27 she would not accept the Laetare Medal or speak at the graduation. The award is given annually to a Catholic whose service has benefited church and society.
Glendon told Jenkins she was “dismayed” the school had chosen to give an award to Obama in spite of the American bishops’ 2004 request that Catholic organizations “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”
Compiled by the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.