Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama, Notre Dame, and Abortion

A great many conservative Catholics were very upset about the fact that Barack Obama was asked to give the commencement address at Notre Dame’s graduation, and was given an honorary degree by the university. U.S. Catholic bishops have decreed that Catholic institutions should not honor anyone who supports abortion, and Obama is as pro-abortion as it is possible to be in American politics. A conservative friend summed up the feelings of many in his Facebook status—that he was going to boycott everything Notre Dame—alumni, sports, everything.

I’d consider a boycott too, but I don’t know anyone who goes there, and the only contact I have with the university’s sports teams is watching Notre Dame get crushed by USC every year. The fact that Notre Dame is a liberal institution, and one not altogether in step with Rome, is something that is pretty well known. The fact that Notre Dame invited Obama to give its commencement address, while symptomic of the university’s attitude towards Catholic teaching, is hardly unexpected nor especially revealing.

What are revealing are Obama’s remarks at the event, which are a perfect example of his movement’s inability to understand the other sides’ argument. Obama made two real points about abortion in his speech, a) that abortion is a “heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, [and] it has both moral and spiritual dimensions,” and b) that when considering the abortion issue, it is important to reach for common ground.

Taking the first observation first, it might be worth noting that while the decision to have an abortion is no doubt “heart-wrenching,” the decision to have an abortion seems usually to be driven by economics. According to the website, over eighty-five percent of abortions are carried out on women making less than $60,000 a year, 80% are unmarried, and 52% are under the age of twenty-five. 93% of abortions are performed for social reasons, as opposed to rape or incest to for health considerations.

It would be a stretch to say that the decision to have an abortion is decided “casually,” but then, I think it also a stretch to say that all, or even most, women having abortions really consider the “moral and spiritual dimensions.” Given the statistics regarding the age, martial status, and income levels of most women who have abortions, it seems reasonable to infer that most abortions are the result of panic and the desperation that comes with the knowledge that one faces a nigh-impossible challenge. Morality tends to be pushed aside by such factors.

Obama’s second point is just stupid. He calls for finding middle ground, and working to together to resolve the abortion dilemma. But you can’t have a middle ground between two absolutes. Either abortion is, generally, permissible, or it is an awful crime. It isn’t both, and there is no real middle ground. Working together to prevent unplanned pregnancies is a worthy goal, and so is improving social conditions so that fewer women are faced with the challenge of raising a child without the handicaps of youth, illegitimacy, or poverty. The Democrats’ vision of an America of a nation where abortion is “safe, legal, and rare” is not acceptable from a pro-life standpoint, but it would be preferable to the one we have.

Such a situation would be better than the status quo—but abortion would still be, at least from a Catholic point of view, an intrinsically immoral act, and the fact that there were fewer of them performed would not make the crime of abortion any less great. It is this that Obama fails to understand.

Abortion, for those on both sides, is not a political issue, where compromise is necessary and admirable, but a moral one, with an objective answer. That answer differs with one’s moral beliefs—but both pro-life and pro-choice people believe there is one. Obama doesn’t understand this—and sadly, it seems those who run Notre Dame don’t either.


At May 18, 2009 at 11:56 PM , Anonymous Flowers said...

Good site.

At May 20, 2009 at 5:31 AM , Blogger I Ain't Got No Blog said...

Beware of those dirty hippies liberals . They're immature and irresponsible. ...All they want is free sex and legalized drugs and mandatory abortions.
Well come to think of it mandatory abortions for liberals may be a good thing!.

At May 20, 2009 at 6:16 AM , Anonymous shaun said...

I was impressed by Obama's willingness to find common ground on the issue of abortion.
Working to create conditions that would make abortions unnecessary would have broad support by both sides of the issue.

Better to find area where we can all agree on and work together, rather than shout at each other through megaphones and call each other "baby killers" and "Taliban freaks"

When no one listens it' a waste of time to discuss

At May 20, 2009 at 9:26 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Obama's voting record does not jive with a "common ground" attitude, Shaun, he's pretty hard core pro-abortion. Lip service is nothing more than playing politics.

At May 20, 2009 at 12:25 PM , Blogger BB-Idaho said...

"May 20, 2009 Against the backdrop of the row about President Barack Obama speaking at University of Notre Dame, a nationwide poll shows him doing well with Catholic voters.
The Quinnipiac University poll said that after his first 100 days the president had an approval rating of 57-33 percent among white Catholics compared to a 44-42 percent split among white Protestants."

At May 20, 2009 at 1:18 PM , Anonymous Tim Lim said...

Obama’s commencement address marked his most direct remarks as president on abortion – an issue he generally sought to downplay during his presidential campaign. He delivered them at the nation’s flagship Catholic university, where his appearance sparked protests for weeks in advance and in the minutes after he stepped to the podium.

While Obama received a warm welcome when he took the stage at the ceremony, he was only five minutes into his remarks before police had escorted out three protesters who ignited a passionate response from the graduates and showed that the president was in a mostly friendly territory.

"Abortion is murder," one protester screamed.

"That's all right," Obama said as the crowd booed.

"You are a baby killer," the man continued to yell, at which point the crowd broke into a deafening chant: "We are N.D."

As the man was led out by police, Obama diverted from his prepared text to say, "We're not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes," then returned to his speech.

Yet for all the controversy around the speech, what the graduates and their families heard was a veritable echo of Obama’s past comments on the topic – an attempt to soften the rough edges of the polarizing debate. It’s an approach that served Obama well in the campaign, when he won support from even some anti-abortion Catholics who found his more moderate tone on abortion appealing.

In the speech, Obama often drew on his personal experiences to make his points and highlight his respect for Catholicism, but he never substantively addressed why he believes a woman has the right to abortion.

Instead, Obama’s speech largely focused on the rhetoric from both sides. Obama made the call for “common ground” three times and said that only comes “when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe.”

At May 20, 2009 at 3:28 PM , Anonymous deepdish said...

With priests molesting children,sunday school teachers committing murder and the other problems within the church this is a pathetic form of behavior.In the first place he was invited to speak,he did not ask to come.Second, most of the Catholics supported and voted for Obama in the election according to the polls and third he doesn't support per say abortion.He's defending a woman's right to choose under special circumstance. If this display is an example of Catholicism I thank God I don't belong to it.It's a disgrace.And the reputation of this school is going downhill.Especially since you approved of Bush murdering many innocents in Iraq. Spare us this phony self righteous behavior.It's setting a bad reflection on your school and your religion. So lets face it, abortion is the least of our problems.
Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with slavery, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our emancipation policies are grounded not only in sound economics, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of slaves

At May 20, 2009 at 6:30 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, Daniel.

At January 18, 2010 at 4:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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