Referencing Abortion in the President’s Speech at Notre Dame
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
President Obama’s recent speech at the University of Notre Dame commencement ceremony came up several times during our live event with Joshua DuBois at the Fitz — from Krista during the interview and from our online and in-house audiences during the Q+A session.
The president addressed several divisive issues — including abortion, a topic we’ve been working at reframing by asking for your perspectives and stories on how you and others might engage in this dialogue in ways not yet imagined. Specifically, Krista asked DuBois if he had a hand in writing the speech. His answer was rather indirect, saying something to the effect that the president faces difficult issues “head on” and that his speeches are in the president’s voice.
President Obama’s address garnered a fair amount of attention for his choice of place in talking about such a controversial issues. Was this the appropriate venue for this discussion? I’m not sure, but I like that the administration isn’t avoiding it. I’m hopeful that more fruitful ways of talking about this hot-button issue are on the horizon.
The Human Scale
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This December, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) turns 60 years old, and the video above was released in preparation for that celebration. The UDHR (listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Translated Document” in the world) was drafted by the United Nations in response to the Second World War as a means of clearly defining what the UN hoped to protect — namely, the “equal and inalienable rights” that “all members of the human family” are entitled to.
I thought it was worth mentioning on the blog because the issue of human rights is a pretty important one at SOF; so much of what we do here is about taking larger ideas and bringing them down to the level of individual lives. Often issues that seem irreconcilable in their abstract form seem more managable when you hear the stories of those affected.
Case and point: our recent feature “Between the Polarized Extremes of Abortion.” Looking through some of the thoughtful and heartfelt responses we received on this topic, I realized that for all of the rhetoric I’ve heard on this subject, I’ve rarely seen it dealt with on such a personal level. Your responses turned out to be refreshing and much-needed antidote to the political and cultural battling this issue tends to invoke.
It seems that if there is going to be any reconcilliation on the issue of abortion, it will probably come through an understanding of the individual lives that are affected by it. And while the UDHR has its critics (I imagine anything claiming to be “universal” would), to me it’s an important step in the right direction — a larger way of acknowledging the need to understand the world on a more human scale.
While doing a little research on this, I discovered that there is also an older (much longer) animation about the UDHR, sponsored by Amnesty International. The tone seems a little different in Amnesty’s video, and I thought it was worth including because, while it is pretty dated, it also strikes me as being a little bit more … well, human.
Memories of a Pro-Life Childhood
Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer
A few times when I was in elementary school, my mom took me out of school to go to the annual pro-life march at the Minnesota state capitol. I remember waiting for a shuttle from Colonial Square in Wayzata, standing in Rexall Drug’s entrance next to a woman with a sign that read, “Real Feminists are Pro-Life.” At that age, I didn’t know what a feminist was and remember asking my mom, but I don’t think her answer made it any clearer for me. Isn’t everybody for women’s rights?
One particular year we were at the capitol and I remember signs that had pictures of aborted fetuses pasted to foamcore; another striking display was a grim reaper effigy being toted around by a cross made of 2x4s, which the strong winds made even more terrifying. My memory tells me that each time it was a gray, overcast January day, with exhaust-covered snow heaped upon the banks of the streets. I don’t know what I was thinking of it at the time, but my recollection is that we were doing what was needed.
I remember screenings of The Silent Scream were offered in my church’s basement. My parents never let me watch it. I guess I was too young to witness that strong a message. But I went to the capitol each year because it was what my mom asked of me. I would do it for her then, and I would like to say I would support her today, a little over a year since she passed away, but I cannot be sure.
My mom always called me her “Jesus-baby,” a moniker my siblings still give me grief about (and perhaps now my colleagues), and an affection my mom expressed to me as late as her death bed. I’m not sure I know the entire story behind this nickname, but I do know that mom quit smoking and drinking two years before I was born and also had a born-again experience during the time when charismatic Christianity was firing up Roman Catholic parishes in the early 70’s. I also know that her doctor tried to persuade her to have a hysterectomy around this time — my mother had had 5 children already. I don’t know how much of this, or all of it, is what shaped my mom’s views on abortion, but they do represent some of the circumstances.
I am very conflicted on where I stand on abortion. I can’t say I would abide by the pro-life position if my wife and I found ourselves in a place which would be too challenging for us at some stage in our lives. I do, however, wish that there were fewer abortions, as I think it is a choice and commitment of such anguish for a woman that no one ever wants to undertake, if possible.
And so this contentious struggle continues, without much progress. Maybe I have softened due to the inevitability of maturing, though doubtful. But I can point to something Rod Dreher said on a recent SOF program that was revealing to me.
“If I were pro-choice, I would feel very strongly about it and I would find it very difficult to compromise.”
What’s there to do when you can’t compromise and are unwilling to see the opposite perspective? When I say that I am passionate about my beliefs, I guess I am speaking theoretically. My problem is that I see both perspectives as valid, a convenient strategy my dad and I argue about that he calls situational ethics. He feels that there are absolutes in one’s faith and you need to abide by those, no matter the scenario. I feel as though no decision is free from the circumstances, and it is the very apt approach to regarding hindsight or looking back on previous decisions that allow us to progress.
Perhaps that’s what I am, pro-gress. But I am sure we all are.
[Editor’s note: Out of the hundreds of responses we’ve received about abortion, many people are wrestling with same personal and societal conundrums of legalization. I encourage you to visit our map and read some, and submit you’re own perspectives.]
Teasing Out Issues of Race and Religion
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
It’s a mixed bag when somebody verbalizes what others dare not express. There’s always one loud-mouth that says something that makes people around him feel completely uncomfortable, even if he’s saying something that is at the back of others’ minds.
From David Kirkpatrick’s “Abortion Issues Again Dividing Catholic Votes” in this morning’s online edition of The New York Times:
“One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)”
Unfortunately, I hear some of the people (loved ones included) from my home when I read this statement. I just have to wonder if some Catholic voters aren’t using the Vatican’s stances on abortion and homosexuality as a pretext, a protective shield for their prejudices. And this gets conflated in reporting about Catholic and Evangelical voters and the issues that will determine these voters’ decisions in the booth.
For one, I’d like to thank the man for articulating a sentiment — racially discriminatory though it may be — to a reporter, in public. I may have cringed, but it needed to be said — in a parish rectory, no less. And thank you to Mr. Kirkpatrick for diligently teasing out the lingering mindset of racial discrimination from social issues girded by one’s faith.
As you can see, I have strong opinions about this. What do you see? What do you think?