Answering Notre Dame

May 17 was a frustrating day for pro-lifers. Listening to Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, and Barack Obama, president of the United States, pro-lifers felt the urge to argue with what was being said. But there was no opportunity to argue.

This is precisely why Catholics were so opposed to Obama being honored in this way. The speeches did nothing but excuse and confuse the issue of the right to life.

When Father Jenkins said: "We honor all people of good will who have come to this discussion respectfully and out of deeply held conviction."

We wanted to answer: What "discussion?" This is a commencement address and the conferral of an honorary doctorate. It's Notre Dame proposing a model to its students. There's no discussion.

Father Jenkins: "When we face differences with fellow citizens ... do we condemn those who differ with us for not seeing the truth that we see?"

No. Nor do we give them honorary law degrees, particularly when they are promoting killing.

Father Jenkins: "Differences must be acknowledged, and, in some cases, cherished. But too often differences lead to pride in self and contempt for others, until two sides — taking opposing views of the same difference — demonize each other. Whether the difference is political, religious, racial or national — trust falls, anger rises, and cooperation ends ... even for the sake of causes all sides care about."

We don't think the 80 bishops who opposed the honoring of the president meant to demonize him. They just acknowledged what he is doing: directing money from taxpayers' paychecks to the killing of human beings.

Father Jenkins: "Most of the debate has centered on Notre Dame's decision to invite and honor the president. Less attention has been focused on the president's decision to accept.

"President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him."

Who would have avoided this venue? Wouldn't any politician jump at the chance to get honors and a law degree from his natural opponents? Doesn't he just want Catholic votes?

The questions would continue with Obama's words.

President Obama: "I received an e-mail from a doctor who told me that, while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life — but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.

"What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website — an entry that said I would fight 'right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose.' ... He wrote, 'I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.' Fair-minded words.

"After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him, and I thanked him. And I didn't change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website.

Exactly. Obama changed the words on his website to get votes. Isn't that all he is doing now?

Obama: "So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions; let's reduce unintended pregnancies."

Does he mean: "Let's restore Nancy Pelosi's contraception money to the stimulus package"?

Aren't most pregnancies "unintended"? Isn't it the point that children should be welcomed unconditionally, not categorized as "intended" or not?

Obama: "Let's make adoption more available."

Isn't it available already? Does he mean: "Allow nontraditional 'families' to adopt"?

One way to make adoption more available would be to give Catholic Charities an exemption to homosexual adoption so they could re-establish services in Boston and elsewhere. Will he help?

Obama: "Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term."

If Obama believes this then why, as a senator, did he vote against extending SCHIP to cover prenatal care? And he says it is "their children" that women are "carrying to term." When they abort them, aren't they still children — human victims?

Obama: "Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause ..."

What's wrong with the conscience clause we already have? Is he caricaturing the Church's position by saying the clause we're defending isn't "sensible"?

Obama:" ... and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women."

What about the equality of the unborn? And was there something unsound about the science in Bush's policies? It's clear embryology: An embryo is a human being with his own set of DNA, sex and life expectancy. You can't ethically kill an innocent human being. Obama's clone-and-kill policy is unsound on the science and the ethics.

Obama: "Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

The problem in this case wasn't reducing views to caricature but reducing them to confusion. Reputable newspapers reported that Obama was "seeking a conscience clause," when of course the U.S. bishops have been vociferously pointing out that he's seeking to end a conscience clause. Newspapers reported that he said he wanted to "reduce the number of abortions." He has never said that. He wants to reduce "unintended pregnancies."

Notre Dame has extended tolerance past the breaking point and has ended up making a pro-abortion stance seem like a fine, reasonable, Catholic alternative.

But pro-lifers are winning the opinion battle. There are more pro-lifers than ever, a new Gallup Poll shows. We can still win by never tiring in defending the common ground we have on this topic in America: the Declaration of Independence, which insists that all have the right to life.