Monday, May 18, 2009

Fair Words at Notre Dame -- But NOT a New Take on Abortion

My email inbox is overflowing with religious leaders and organizations on the President's speech at Notre Dame yesterday.

I posted the link to the video last night. Here's what some of the text actually said:

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son's or daughter's hardships can be relieved.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion....

That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we 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. Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."

Understand - I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it - indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory - the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

And I think they were. I admire the President for going through with the speech, knowing about the protesters, for addressing the concerns about his pro-choice position directly, for not responding to the hecklers, the placards, and the outlines of fetuses on some of the mortarboards...but for stating calmly and resolutely that there is common ground on reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting women who choose adoption, and providing support for women who carry their pregnancies to term.

There is NOTHING NEW about these positions for the pro-choice, feminist community. It's what we have called for as long as I have been doing this work. It's how I was trained 30 years ago as a volunteer at a Planned Parenthood clinic, it's the words in a pregnancy counseling manual that I wrote in the early 1980's, and it is the basis of the Religious Institutes's Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion As A Moral Decision, published in 2005.

And now it's the position of the President of the United States. And since that earned him a long standing ovation at Notre Dame, it perhaps demonstrates more than ever that it's the position that most Americans believe.

As I have written here many times, surely there is common ground in understanding that because life and parenthood is so precious it should not be created carelessly -- and why there must be a moral commitment to comprehensive sexuality education, widespread availability of contraception, responsible procreation, high quality and affordable prenatal care, and intentional parenting.

I understand why some of that wasn't spelled out in detail yesterday at a Roman Catholic university; I'm glad for what was said, I'm glad that Notre Dame didn't rescind its invitation in light of the protests, and I know that in light of the Supreme Court vacancy, this issue isn't going away any time soon.

What would it take to all open our hearts and embrace a prevention first strategy?


WFW said...

Hey Deb,

Thanks for the words. I agree there was nothing new here, but the common ground does get lost in the accumulated debris of conflict. My own, longer and less adroitly said, take on this issue I posted Sunday to my blog morning to make sure I didn't let it become my sermon. You can see it at -

Rockbard said...

check this out