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 abortionno.org, 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.