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05/18/2009

The Audacity of Civility

  Perhaps you noticed in our ABC-7 coverage of President Obama's speech at Notre Dame Sunday, our videographer intentionally avoided shooting the large placards held by many of the anti-abortion demonstrators who ringed the South Bend campus.   During the past 15-20 years, the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League has used enlarged photos of dead fetuses to make its point.   The photos are some of the most graphic images of death you'll ever see outside of a medical examiner's file.  A few years ago, it was reported that many of the images were actually hospital photos of stillborn as opposed to aborted fetuses.

  As he leaned on one such grotesque prop, League founder Joe Scheidler told me the movement decided many years ago the placards had proven their effectiveness in convincing the public that "abortion is murder".   He cited the most recent Gallup Poll that indicated for the first time since such surveys have been taken a majority of Americans (52%) identified themselves as "pro-life" on the issue.

  Enter the nation's 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, into the fray.  Obama is, and always has been resolutely "pro-choice" on abortion.   He agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, that upholds a woman's right to choose.  So why would he accept the invitation to adress the commencement excercise at this most Catholic University and aggravate a nearly four decades old American wound?  Notre Dame's president, the Reverend Father John Jenkins, announced from the podium Sunday that the institution has not wavered in its support for church doctrine on the issues of abortion and stem cell research.

  Obama says he came here not to announce a personal change of heart or to ask anyone here to change their position on abortion.  His simple plea was for a return to civility in the abortion debate.  "How do we 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 questioned.

  Still, there were a few hecklers in the audience who crudely interrupted the holder of the nation's highest elective office during his speech.  And those with the bloody placards just outside the campus boundaries, who did not immediately hear Obama's plea, spoke wildly about the President being the biblical "Anti-Christ".  Scheidler told me "Abortion is the one non-negotiable situation.  We can't compromise on it". 

  Scheidler left South Bend Sunday convinced that the anti-abortion movement in the United States was re-energized by the controversy at Notre Dame.  The President left with hope that a more reasoned, less graphic and civil approach to the debate might lead both sides to common ground. 

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