By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, May 18, 2009 ( – Speaking at the University of Notre Dame commencement exercises yesterday, during what could easily be described as an Obama love-in, President Obama addressed the abortion issue that has roused an unprecedented groundswell of strong opposition by 79 U.S. bishops and 360,000 petitioners to his appearance at the leading Catholic university. Using the opportunity to make his longest abortion remarks since the election, “The Abortion President,” as he has been called by pro-life leaders because of his extreme abortion record and views, counselled Notre Dame students on the proper response to the abortion question. He told the students that rather than “demonizing the opposition,” one should keep an open mind to the opposite point of view and should seek “common ground.”

During the speech, thousands of pro-lifers from around the country protested Obama’s appearance – some holding pro-life signs along the road to Notre Dame, some rallying with pro-life Notre Dame students on the South Quad, and a handful protesting at the speech itself.

“Obama would have Americans open their hearts and minds to the shedding of innocent blood, and would cloak the slaughter of innocent children in ‘fair-minded’ words,” said Operation Rescue president Troy Newman following Obama’s speech. “Yet the Bible teaches us that we should rescue those who are being led to the slaughter and give practical assistance to those who are in need.” (To read more reactions from pro-lifers on Obama’s speech, go to:

Though greeted by raucous and frequent ovations from much of the Catholic university audience, the President was interrupted near the beginning of his remarks by three or four pro-life protesters in the crowd, who, according to eyewitnesses, shouted, “This is a blasphemy against the mother of God,” “Abortion is murder” and “Stop killing our children.” The crowd responded with loud boos, with several graduates standing to face the protesters and chant “We are ND” and “Yes we can.”

Discussing the difficulty of “bringing together persons of good will” on controversial issues, Obama broached the life issues by referring to embryo-destructive stem cell research. “Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life,” he said, “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 remark elicited loud cheers and applause from many, although a significant number of graduates appeared not to applaud.

Obama continued: “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, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”

The president described an email he had received from a pro-life doctor, saying that he might not vote for Obama, who had just won the Democratic nomination, because he was concerned about language on Obama’s website saying he would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

Obama explained to the audience, “I didn’t change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.”

Open minds seeking common ground, he said, would lead to an agreement that the decision to abort an unborn child “is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.”

To much applause, Obama stressed the need to reduce abortions and unintended pregnancies, advocated “a sensible conscience clause” and called for health care policies grounded in “sound science,” “clear ethics” and “respect for the equality of women.”

The president said he does not suggest “that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” because “no matter how much we may want to fudge it … the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.” Though the debate will continue, said Obama, “Surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.” “Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition,” he added.

Obama counselled the graduates to “have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated” in a world “of competing claims of what is right and what is true.”

“Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake,” he said. “Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. In other words, stand as a lighthouse.”

Some of the graduates displayed the Obama campaign symbol atop their mortarboards, while others displayed a cross and tiny baby’s feet in silent protest of Obama’s expansive abortion agenda.

During the President’s remarks, over 3,000 pro-lifers from across the country – some travelling from as far as California, Florida, Texas, and New York – joined the student coalition ND Response for Mass and a rally on the South Quad.

The rally featured several speakers, including an unexpected cameo by Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who offered his support to the pro-life demonstrators. Several Notre Dame graduates protesting their own commencement joined Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life at a prayer vigil at the Grotto, which demonstrators on the South Quad joined via a live video feed.

As part of another demonstration, at least 39 pro-life protesters were taken into custody for trespassing on Notre Dame’s campus, according to an AP report. Among those arrested was Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade, who has had a conversion and is now opposed to abortion.

Several hundred protesters, many carrying signs showing graphic images of abortion, lined a two-mile stretch of road leading from Interstate 80 to the campus’ main entrance.

To view the full text of Obama’s remarks:

To view YouTube video of the speech see

See related article:

Obama’s First 100 Days: The anti-life plan is now established