I read the text of President Obama’s Notre Dame graduation speech, and as usual it was a fine speech.
I’m glad he spoke directly to abortion, and that he made it clear that when he speaks of reducing the number of abortions he means to do it primarily by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. So often “abortion reduction” and “common ground” are code words for “we’re going to nibble Roe v. Wade to death with stupid abortion restrictions.”
By stressing a long-standing Democratic Party commitment to preventing unintended pregnancy and supporting pregnant women who continue pregnancies under a new name — “reducing the need for abortion” — he got most of these Catholics to vote for him in 2008.
Still, Obama yoked the strongest possible feminist affirmation of the right to choose abortion to his message of abortion reduction — and many pro-life Catholics voted for him anyway, a sign of how disgusted they were with the Republicans. At an April 29 press conference the president explained why he is pro-choice in terms that most feminists would applaud. “The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take [abortion] casually. I think they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or the president of the United States.” A feminist theologian might tweak the language, but the bottom line is that the president’s theology is feminist. Women are moral adults and agents; they think about abortion in complex and thoughtful ways and they should be trusted to make the decision. The president has not waffled on abortion.
I’ve said many times that what really separates people who want to criminalize abortion and those who don’t is not whether they think a fetus is a person. It’s whether they appreciate that a woman is a person. “Women are moral adults and agents; they think about abortion in complex and thoughtful ways and they should be trusted to make the decision.” Exactly. To me, terminating a healthy pregnancy is a sad thing, but reducing women to the status of brood animals is a lot sadder.
Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times that the President “appealed to partisans on both sides to find ways to respect one anotherâ€™s basic decency and even work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.” Baker also said,
Anti-abortion leaders protested his appearance at the University of Notre Dame and he was heckled four times during a commencement address by protesters yelling slogans like â€œabortion is murder.â€ But the audience shouted down the hecklers and cheered Mr. Obama as he called for â€œopen hearts, open minds, fair-minded wordsâ€ in a debate that has polarized the country for decades.
Meanwhile, Randall Terry was seen on campus pushing a baby carriage occupied by a doll covered in blood.
Personally, I liked this part of the President’s speech, even the “G” part:
But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.
And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame.
Reinhold Niebuhr, big time.
Update: See E.J. Dionne:
The thunderous and repeated applause that greeted Obama and the Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president who took enormous grief for asking him to appear, stood as a rebuke to those who said the president should not have been invited.