In his address at the University of Notre Dame in May of 2009, President Barack Obama urged people to work together to find "common ground" on the abortion issue. His rhetoric impressed many who saw their chief of state inviting U.S. citizens to become united in their collective search for a middle ground on a most contentious and divisive problem.
It sounded good in the abstract, set free from any particular context that would give it a realistic focus. But was it mere rhetoric containing no substance? Was it a mere diversionary tactic?
Some things, however, are permanently divided either by nature or by purpose. St. Paul tells us that "light and darkness have nothing in common" (2 Corinthians 6:14). The Gospel of St. John tells us, "Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not" (John 1:4-5).
There is no common ground for heaven and hell. There is no common ground that unites love with hate, glory with tragedy. This is written in the very nature of things. From a logical point of view, contradictories, by definition, have no common ground.
Then there are permanent divisions that are designed on purpose. If anyone should know this, it should be fans of Notre Dame football — the bulk of Obama’s audience on that spring day in 2009. There is no common ground in either end zone. When a member of the Fighting Irish makes his way into the opponent’s end zone, he finds not common ground, but a touchdown and six points for his team.
The game of football demands areas that are not common to both teams. Too much common ground in any sport means that there can never be a winner. There is no common ground between winning and losing.
Abortion, by nature, does not contain common ground. An unborn child cannot be both alive and dead at the same time. Nor can a man simultaneously be free and a slave.
Abraham Lincoln (whose 205th birthday we mark Feb. 12) understood this when he confronted the great moral issue of his time. In the penultimate paragraph of a lengthy address he delivered on Feb. 27, 1860, at New York City’s Cooper Union, he advised people not to be diverted by "those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored — contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between right and wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man."
Just as there is no middle ground between slavery and freedom, there can be no middle ground between aborting a child and carrying a pregnancy to term — and no middle ground between being alive and being dead.
Slavery and abortion are issues that are more than contentious. They are contradictory. Hence, they admit no common or middle ground. God is good. He is not, at the same time, evil. Light illuminates; darkness obscures.
There are, indeed, common grounds. America’s 16th president understood that the Declaration of Independence specified that one particular common ground was the humanity of all, since the proposition "All men are created" equal extends to everyone.
Yet what common ground could possibly exist when the humanity of an unborn child isn’t recognized? What Obama was really saying in 2009 was that all people should be pro-abortion. Contradictories can only have a common ground once you eliminate one of the poles of the contradiction. For instance, light and darkness have everything in common once you eliminate the light.
In an address to Planned Parenthood in April 2013, Obama ridiculed pro-life advocates for "wanting to turn back the clock to policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st century." Evoking affirming laughter from his audience, he went on to say that the pro-life position makes "you want to check the calendar; you want to make sure you’re still living in the year 2013."
This speech signals there is not much common ground in the president’s mind between the "ignorant" and the "enlightened," For him, the enlightened clearly support abortion; the ignorant are obsolete. Apparently, the U.S. president sees himself not so much as America’s president, but the president of Planned Parenthood. In that arbitrary, narrow, undemocratic and un-American context, he finds his common ground.
But this is hardly the common ground for all Americans. There is common ground between Obama and Lincoln insofar as they are/were both presidents of the United States. But they have little common ground when it comes to honoring the true common ground, already stated in the Declaration of Independence: the "self-evident" truth "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International.
He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario,
an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary
in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for
St. Austin Review. Some
of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s
Truth & Charity Forum.