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May 17th, 2009

President Barack Obama’s Commencement Speech at Notre Dame

President is greeted by cheers, protests at University of Notre Dame


President Obama speaks at Notre Dame (MSNBC, May 17, 2009) — Watch President Obama’s full speech at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. (30:49)

Video of Notre Dame University Commencement Ceremony


Earlier reports

Protests Await Obama’s Notre Dame Speech

Image: Notre Dame graduate Greg Podolej, right, passes activists
Notre Dame graduate Greg Podolej, right, passes activists on the way to his commencement ceremony on the campus of Notre Dame University Sunday, May 17, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

May 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama ventures to America’s foremost Roman Catholic University, where the country’s deep divisions over abortion and stem-cell research have moved to the forefront in a time of war and recession.

A storm blew up immediately after Notre Dame invited Obama to address Sunday’s commencement exercises. It still rages, with anti-abortion activists promising to disrupt the president’s appearance, where he was to receive an honorary degree.

Students opposed to abortion rights attended an open-air Mass on campus and an all-night prayer vigil to protest Obama’s visit, and 200 people prayed at a packed Alumni Hall Chapel. More than 100 people met at the school’s front gate and held anti-abortion signs while Obama flew from Washington to Indiana. More than 100 protesters gathered and 23 marched onto the campus Saturday.

Police say they arrested 19 for trespassing and four were also charged with resisting law enforcement. In Washington on Sunday, the head of the Republican Party said Obama should be denied the honorary degree. …

The Catholic Church and many other Christian denominations hold that abortion or the use of embryos for stem cell research amounts to the destruction of human life, is morally wrong and should be banned by law.

The contrary argument holds that women have the right to terminate any pregnancy and that unused embryos created outside the womb for couples who cannot otherwise conceive should be available for stem cell research. Such research holds the promise of finding treatments for some of mankind’s most debilitating ailments. …

‘Pro-choice’ is overtaken

Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame would appear to be complicated by new polls that show Americans’ attitudes on the issue have shifted toward the anti-abortion position [link added]. A Gallup survey released Friday found that 51 percent of those questioned call themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42 percent “pro-choice.”

This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as “pro-life” since Gallup began asking this question in 1995. Just a year ago, Gallup found that 50 percent termed themselves “pro-choice” while 44 percent described their beliefs as “pro-life.” …

Gallup said shifting opinions lay almost entirely with Republicans or independents who lean Republican, with opposition among those groups rising over the past year from 60 percent to 70 percent. …

‘Full support’ of the trustees

The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, has not joined the debate that erupted after Obama’s invitation. Friends and colleagues say Jenkins has listened to the criticism but is confident in his decision.

“He respects people who differ, but he’s resolute in his decision because he did it based on conscience and what he really believes in,” said Richard Notebaert, chairman of Notre Dame’s board of trustees. Notebaert said Jenkins, who is in the fourth year of a five-year term, has the “full support” of the trustees. That hasn’t soothed critics, who question whether Notre Dame has lost touch with its Catholic roots.

Calls for Jenkins’ ouster have grown louder amid protests by abortion opponents, who have paraded dolls smeared in fake blood outside a recent trustees’ meeting and on Sunday flew an anti-abortion banner over campus. …

The Rev. Richard McBrien, a theology professor at Notre Dame who supports Obama’s speech, noted that the president’s positions put him at odds with Catholic doctrine but added: “There are other positions he has taken, whether it’s on immigration or poverty or whatever, which are entirely consistent with Catholic social teaching.” …



Obama Calls for ‘Fair-Minded’ Abortion Debate

Image: Obama receives honorary degree
President Barack Obama receives an honorary Doctor of Laws degree Sunday, May 17, 2009 during the commencement ceremony in the Joyce Center of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo credit: Mandel Ngan / AFP — Getty Images)

May 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama strode head-on Sunday into the stormy abortion debate and told graduates at America’s leading Roman Catholic university that both sides must stop demonizing one another.

Obama acknowledged that “no matter how much we want to fudge it … the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” But he still implored the University of Notre Dame’s graduating class and all in the U.S. to stop “reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that always has been the Notre Dame tradition.”

One of the noisiest controversies of his young presidency flared after Obama, who supports abortion rights but says the procedure should be rare, was invited to speak at the school and receive an honorary degree. “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” the president said.

The Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, introduced Obama and praised the president for not being “someone who stops talking to those who disagree with him.” Jenkins said too little attention has been paid to Obama’s decision to speak at an institution that opposes his abortion policy.

At least 27 arrests ahead of speech

Ahead of Obama’s speech, at least 27 people were arrested on trespassing charges from protests outside the university, police said. They included Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as “Roe” in the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. She now opposes abortion and joined more than 300 anti-abortion demonstrators at the school’s front gate.

More than half held signs, some declaring “Shame on Notre Dame” and “Stop Abortion Now” to express their anger over Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, saying the university had lost touch with its Catholic roots.

On campus, Obama entered the arena to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from many in the crowd of 12,000. But as the president began his commencement address, at least three protesters interrupted it. One yelled, “Stop killing our children.”

The graduates responded by chanting “Yes we can,” the slogan that became synonymous with Obama’s presidential campaign. Obama seemed unfazed, saying Americans must be able to deal with things that make them “uncomfortable.”

The president ceded no ground on abortion. But he said those on each side of the debate “can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.

“So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

‘Sensible conscience clause’

He said he favored “a sensible conscience clause” that would give anti-abortion health care providers the right to refuse to perform the procedure. …

On the Notre Dame campus, members of an abortion rights group also protested while a plane pulling an anti-abortion banner circled above. Tara Makowski of Seattle, who received a master’s degree Saturday from the school, said she was dismayed by the way Notre Dame was being characterized.

“Seeing us being portrayed nationally as radical conservative has been really tough,” she said. “People need to realize that the majority of students and faculty” favored Obama’s visit.

But Bishop John D’Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, planned to skip Sunday’s commencement. He attended an open-air Mass and rally. He said he wanted to support the students protesting Obama’s speech. …

Obama was the ninth president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame and sixth sitting president to address graduates. Other commencement speakers have included Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. …

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