Notre Dame Rescued the Right-To-Life Movement from Oblivion

Even if you believe President Barack Obama's commencement address at the University of Notre Dame was cynical opportunism on Obama's part or a calculated appeal on Notre Dame's part inviting him in the first place to convince academic elites  that Notre Dame is not captive to Roman Catholic dogma, one outcome is certain: the abortion debate was rescued, at least for the moment, from drifting into the marginal recesses of the political calculus.

While the most recent Rasmussen polling seems to show a thin majority of Americans are now leaning to a right-to-life posture rejecting abortion on demand,  the US Congress is still beholden to the abortion lobby.   Democrats for Life take credit for introduction of the Pregnant Womens Support Act,  legislation sponsored by a dozen  blue-dog democrat Congressmen and supported by a handful of democrat US Senators; yet  the bill never made it out of committee in 2006.   At the legislative and judicial level, the abortion debate has been all but lost.

Conservatives lost the reverence-for-life and abortion debate long before Obama was a candidate for president. Abortion advocates, on a fluidized bed of a sympathetic liberal media smitten by the sexual revolution, have successfully positioned a woman's right to choose as a foundational civil right, preempting the rights of the unborn, and have labeled anti-abortion opponents as enemies of freedom and self-determination. Moreover, one of the more dramatic PR set backs was the attempted legislative intervention over the tragic life of Terri Schiavo and the justifiable recoil over the horror of abortion clinic bombings and Planned Parenthood office harassment that has further alienated sympathizers not fully morally anchored.  The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) introduced in 2007, the Senate version co-sponsored by then US Senator Obama, was never put to a vote, not because of the uncertain passage in the Senate, but the certain override- protected veto of then president Bush. But until the Notre Dame commencement dust-up,  FOCA has been destined to become law under president Obama, only too eager to sign any such bill that crosses his desk.

Yet didn't the Notre Dame commencement bring oxygen if not a possible rejuvenation to the pro-life crusade? Wasn't Obama at least forced to recognize publicly the integrity of abortion opponents' positions? Didn't we hear a less strident and more measured consideration of the conscience clause and the recognition that ethical restraints are necessary in deciding how embryonic stem cells are to be rendered?  Indeed Obama can be excoriated for being disingenuous, but for whom words seem to matter, as his primary work product, Obama set a new conciliatory tone upon which we should now set certain expectations.

The critics of the Notre Dame invitation were quick and unrelenting in their condemnation of the outreach, yet offer no persuasive strategy of their own.  How would the right-to-life absolutists, including the dozens of US Roman Catholic Bishops along with Indiana's own Bishop John D'Arcy, commence the dialogue beyond the sparsely attended prayer vigils and uncompromising pastoral letters?

Beyond the prayer vigils and Masses for the unborn, all right and just, how are graphic banners flown behind airplanes or epithets hurled behind parade posters going to change hearts and minds of  members of Congress and their constituents? At least Notre Dame invited the most visible public lightning rod into its place with dignity and grace enjoining at eye level on the same platform a public reckoning on the most vital issue of our lifetime that had nearly been lost forever.

It took a great University, indeed the greatest Catholic university on the planet, having enough self-confidence and respect as an academic institution to transcend the irreconcilable divisions on reverence for life. It would have been far easier for Notre Dame to have comfortably retreated amongst the layers of moral philosophy in its Church's teachings. But if in doing so, Notre Dame would have foresworn its leadership voice necessary to entreat the dialogue anew. And it would have marginalized itself aligning with single issue advocates who, despite the moral righteousness of their cause, possess limited political capital by which to ever hope leveraging voters and their legislators to change the right-to-life landscape.

Of course it is now up to Notre Dame to capitalize on the opening in the abortion debate that only it could have created. It took considerable courage for Fr John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, to extend the invitation to president Obama and endure the harsh non-stop denunciations for weeks. But it will now be Fr Jenkins and Notre Dame's job to finish what he and they started. He deserves our prayers and encouragement instead of derision.
Even if you believe President Barack Obama's commencement address at the University of Notre Dame was cynical opportunism on Obama's part or a calculated appeal on Notre Dame's part inviting him in the first place to convince academic elites  that Notre Dame is not captive to Roman Catholic dogma, one outcome is certain: the abortion debate was rescued, at least for the moment, from drifting into the marginal recesses of the political calculus.

While the most recent Rasmussen polling seems to show a thin majority of Americans are now leaning to a right-to-life posture rejecting abortion on demand,  the US Congress is still beholden to the abortion lobby.   Democrats for Life take credit for introduction of the Pregnant Womens Support Act,  legislation sponsored by a dozen  blue-dog democrat Congressmen and supported by a handful of democrat US Senators; yet  the bill never made it out of committee in 2006.   At the legislative and judicial level, the abortion debate has been all but lost.

Conservatives lost the reverence-for-life and abortion debate long before Obama was a candidate for president. Abortion advocates, on a fluidized bed of a sympathetic liberal media smitten by the sexual revolution, have successfully positioned a woman's right to choose as a foundational civil right, preempting the rights of the unborn, and have labeled anti-abortion opponents as enemies of freedom and self-determination. Moreover, one of the more dramatic PR set backs was the attempted legislative intervention over the tragic life of Terri Schiavo and the justifiable recoil over the horror of abortion clinic bombings and Planned Parenthood office harassment that has further alienated sympathizers not fully morally anchored.  The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) introduced in 2007, the Senate version co-sponsored by then US Senator Obama, was never put to a vote, not because of the uncertain passage in the Senate, but the certain override- protected veto of then president Bush. But until the Notre Dame commencement dust-up,  FOCA has been destined to become law under president Obama, only too eager to sign any such bill that crosses his desk.

Yet didn't the Notre Dame commencement bring oxygen if not a possible rejuvenation to the pro-life crusade? Wasn't Obama at least forced to recognize publicly the integrity of abortion opponents' positions? Didn't we hear a less strident and more measured consideration of the conscience clause and the recognition that ethical restraints are necessary in deciding how embryonic stem cells are to be rendered?  Indeed Obama can be excoriated for being disingenuous, but for whom words seem to matter, as his primary work product, Obama set a new conciliatory tone upon which we should now set certain expectations.

The critics of the Notre Dame invitation were quick and unrelenting in their condemnation of the outreach, yet offer no persuasive strategy of their own.  How would the right-to-life absolutists, including the dozens of US Roman Catholic Bishops along with Indiana's own Bishop John D'Arcy, commence the dialogue beyond the sparsely attended prayer vigils and uncompromising pastoral letters?

Beyond the prayer vigils and Masses for the unborn, all right and just, how are graphic banners flown behind airplanes or epithets hurled behind parade posters going to change hearts and minds of  members of Congress and their constituents? At least Notre Dame invited the most visible public lightning rod into its place with dignity and grace enjoining at eye level on the same platform a public reckoning on the most vital issue of our lifetime that had nearly been lost forever.

It took a great University, indeed the greatest Catholic university on the planet, having enough self-confidence and respect as an academic institution to transcend the irreconcilable divisions on reverence for life. It would have been far easier for Notre Dame to have comfortably retreated amongst the layers of moral philosophy in its Church's teachings. But if in doing so, Notre Dame would have foresworn its leadership voice necessary to entreat the dialogue anew. And it would have marginalized itself aligning with single issue advocates who, despite the moral righteousness of their cause, possess limited political capital by which to ever hope leveraging voters and their legislators to change the right-to-life landscape.

Of course it is now up to Notre Dame to capitalize on the opening in the abortion debate that only it could have created. It took considerable courage for Fr John Jenkins, Notre Dame's president, to extend the invitation to president Obama and endure the harsh non-stop denunciations for weeks. But it will now be Fr Jenkins and Notre Dame's job to finish what he and they started. He deserves our prayers and encouragement instead of derision.