Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama seeks 'common ground' on abortion

Posted: 18 May 2009 0407 hrs

Barack Obama

SOUTH BEND, Indiana: US President Barack Obama sought "common ground" in the decades-long culture war over abortion during a controversial address on Sunday at one of America's most prestigious Catholic universities.

Obama delivered the commencement address for graduating students and received an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame, pitting him headlong into the nation's bitter debate over an issue that he has tried hard to finesse.

A few hundred activists lined the streets leading to the school's entrance holding signs with graphic pictures of aborted foetuses and denouncing Obama's support of abortion rights.

Obama acknowledged that "at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable" but said the nation must find a way to "remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonising those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side."

"When we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do - that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground," Obama told graduates.

The basketball arena was filled with loud cheers and applause and the flash of cameras when Obama was presented with his honorary degree, and the audience of several thousand gave him a standing ovation when he took the podium.

Several students waved caps showing Obama logos.

One architecture student wore a sign reading "fight for unborn human rights" on top of a model of the US Supreme Court.

Local media reported the arrests of at least 19 protesters but the campus appeared largely free of disturbances as well-dressed families held picnics ahead of the ceremony.

But there was little common ground to be found among the protesters lined up outside the campus gates.

"This nation's got blood on its hands and we're going to pay the price for it," said David McWilliams, 51, who drove 160 kilometres to stand with a pair of red gloves and a t-shirt with the words "Mr Obama tear down this law: Roe vs Wade" spelled out with black and red tape.

An airplane pulling a banner with a graphic photo of an aborted foetus flew circles over South Bend, Indiana as the protesters sang "Amazing Grace" to drown out the sound of a handful of counter-protesters chanting: "Not the church. Not the state. We will decide our fate."

"There are millions of women whose right to abortion is being compromised by these Christian fascists," said Sunsara Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Father Richard McBrien, a theology professor at 167-year-old Nortre Dame, said the invitation did not imply approval of the Democratic president's stances on abortion or stem-cell research.

"There are other positions he has taken, whether it's on immigration or poverty or whatever, which are entirely consistent with Catholic social teaching," McBrien said on Fox News Sunday.

"If we required 100 percent agreement with the Catholic Church's official teaching from everyone who speaks at or gets an honorary degree from a Catholic university, we would then not have any politicians of either party."

But Priests for Life national director Frank Pavone, who was leading an alternative service for Notre Dame graduates boycotting Obama, said the university and Obama were "trivialising abortion."

"We're tired of looking at abortion as on an equal level with other issues. It's not," Father Pavone told the Fox program, while noting that Obama's honorary degree was in law.

He highlighted a new Gallup poll that said for the first time since the organisation began surveying the question in 1995, most Americans identify themselves as "pro-life" rather than "pro-choice."

In the poll released on Friday, 51 percent of respondents said they were opposed to abortion while 42 percent said they for a woman's right to choose.

The controversy comes as Obama prepares to name his first nominee to the Supreme Court, a pick sure to be excoriated by some in the Republican Party if he or she is viewed as too liberal on the abortion question.

The president has attempted to defuse one of the most emotive issues in US public life by arguing that while abortion should remain legal, the government should do all it can to limit unwanted pregnancies.

But he has angered the anti-abortion lobby by reversing predecessor George W. Bush's restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research and for family-planning groups that carry out or facilitate abortions overseas.

However, just 28 percent of Catholics surveyed in a recent Pew Centre poll thought Notre Dame was wrong to invite Obama, while half said it was the right thing to do.

Obama also managed to carry the Catholic vote in the November 4 election and was the first Democrat since 1964 to win the midwestern state of Indiana, where Notre Dame is located. - AFP/de

From ChannelNewsAsia.com; see the source article here.


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