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On Abortion, Obama Is Drawn Into Debate He Had Hoped to Avoid
www.nytimes.com
SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: May 14, 2009
WASHINGTON — In nearly four months in office, President Obama has pursued a careful two-pronged strategy on abortion, enacting policies that secure a woman’s right to the procedure, while vowing to move beyond the culture wars that have divided the nation on the issue for more than three decades.


The Caucus

Now, Mr. Obama is suddenly in the thick of the battle he had hoped to transcend, and his delicate balancing act is being put to the test.

The confluence of two events — his commencement speech Sunday at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, and his forthcoming choice of a candidate to replace Justice David H. Souter, who is retiring from the Supreme Court — threaten to upend Mr. Obama’s effort to ”tamp down some of the anger” over abortion, as he said in a news conference last month, and to distract from his other domestic priorities, like health care.

The invitation from Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic institution, has riled opponents of abortion, who object to giving such a platform to a supporter of abortion rights. The local bishop has vowed to boycott the ceremony. Some graduating seniors are planning to protest it. Conservatives, frustrated by what they regard as Mr. Obama’s skillful efforts to paint himself as a moderate, are all over the airwaves denouncing him as “the most radical, pro-abortion of any American president,” as Newt Gingrich said on Fox News.

The White House must now decide whether to engage in the debate and, if so, how deeply. Mr. Obama’s communications adviser, Anita Dunn, said in an interview that the president was likely to “make reference to the controversy” in Sunday’s speech. “You can’t ignore it,” she said, “but at the same time, you can’t allow it to become the focus of a day that’s actually supposed to be about the graduates.”

While the address has galvanized abortion opponents, the Supreme Court opening has galvanized backers of abortion rights. Both sides expect Mr. Obama to pick a candidate who would uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. But interest groups are taking no chances. “Take Action: Protect a Woman’s Right to Choose!” declared the Center for Reproductive Rights in an e-mail message to supporters on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama frames his position on abortion as a nuanced one — he calls it a “a moral and ethical issue” best left to women and doctors — and he envisions himself forging consensus around causes like reducing unintended pregnancies and promoting adoption. As he said in a 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood, “Culture wars are so ‘90s.”

As president, Mr. Obama, who during the campaign answered a question about when human life begins by saying it was “above my pay grade,” has tried to straddle the abortion divide. He has done so partly by reaching out to religious conservatives, partly by avoiding the most contentious legislative battles and partly by reversing the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, a faithful ally of abortion opponents, in piecemeal fashion — all while the nation has been consumed by the economic crisis.

He has named abortion rights advocates to top jobs; Dawn Johnsen, a former legal director of Naral Pro-Choice America, is Mr. Obama’s pick to run the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. He has repealed the so-called Mexico City rule, which barred tax dollars from going to organizations that provide abortions overseas; lifted Mr. Bush’s limits on embryonic stem cell research; stripped financing for abstinence-only sex education; and is seeking to undo a last-minute Bush regulation giving broad protections to health providers who refuse to take part in abortions.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she told allies that their movement was emerging from “eight years in the wilderness.”

But even as Mr. Obama has delighted abortion rights advocates, he has dialed back some earlier ambitions. In 2007, he promised Planned Parenthood that “the first thing I’d do as president” would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which effectively codifies Roe v. Wade. Now he says the bill is “not my highest legislative priority,” as he put it at a recent news conference.

Mr. Obama is also reaching out. At his direction, his top domestic policy adviser, Melody C. Barnes, is convening a series of discussions with people on both sides of the debate, aimed at drafting a set of policy recommendations by late summer.

“What we’ve said to people is, ‘This isn’t an opportunity to re-litigate Roe v. Wade,’ ” Ms. Barnes said. “The president wants us to talk about reducing unintended pregnancies, but he doesn’t want this to be the conversation that never ends. His goal is to get something done.”

David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta who backed Mr. Obama despite their differences on abortion, has participated in the talks. He said the president was sending a message to moderate Catholics and evangelicals that “he clearly knows what the bright red lines are and is trying to avoid stepping over them.”

But religious conservatives and more ardent abortion opponents who have not been included say Mr. Obama is trying to have it both ways. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, an advocacy group, said that if the president really wanted to forge consensus, he would advocate rules allowing parents to be notified if their teenage daughters seek an abortion, and banning the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. As an Illinois state senator, Mr. Obama voted “present” on such initiatives, enabling their defeat.

“Moderate rhetoric, hard-left policies,” said Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, a vocal abortion opponent, assessing Mr. Obama’s approach.

Polls show that the American public is deeply conflicted over abortion, and that support has declined steadily over the years. In 1995, roughly 60 percent of Americans believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Last month, in a survey by the Pew Research Center, that number stood at 46 percent. A Gallup survey that examined seven decisions early in Mr. Obama’s presidency found that the least popular was the one to overturn the ban on sending tax dollars to organizations that provide abortions overseas.

Douglas W. Kmiec, a constitutional scholar and former Notre Dame professor who was an outspoken critic of abortion when he worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, said he had been advising the White House to use Sunday’s speech at the university to tackle the controversy head on, with the president making the case that “we already have agreement, we both respect life, we both view abortion as a moral tragedy.”

But as to whether Mr. Obama can indeed transcend the culture wars, Mr. Kmiec sounded uncertain.

“If there’s anybody who can, it’s the president,” he said. “Whether the culture wars will let him is the question, and the answer is unknown.”

gypsy


Moderator
I think the government should stay out of the issue of abortion,it is up to the

individual/woman.

abortion was happening before Obama became president, why all the uproar now?. it has been legal since 1973 .I personally don't believe in abortion, but i should not dictate who can or can't have it~ neither should the government
Catholics don't believe in birth control either~ So what is all the fuss?better that is legal than the quacks/burcher shops coming back~

runawayhorses


Owner
gypsy wrote:I think the government should stay out of the issue of abortion,it is up to the individual/woman.
gypsy wrote:I personally don't believe in abortion, but i should not dictate who can or can't have it~ neither should the government

You believe its up to the individual to decide for themselves if an abortion is the right thing to do, you support their right to make their own decision, but in the same breath you don't "believe in abortion". So what is your stance on this issue? You certainly wouldn't want people to do something you felt was wrong or that you didn't believe in would you? So how can you openly condone people to do something you feel is morally wrong? You think its wrong (Christianity morals) but you also think they should be allowed to do it if they want, even thou they will be condemned to hell for eternity.

gypsy


Moderator
That is a good point Tyler, and one that is hard for me to answer.. I would rather abortion was not done, but in some cases i can understand it.. also i don't judge someone for that decision, that is not up to me, ,all sins are forgiven if one asked for it~I would advice and help the individual, and share with them my beliefs.that it is wrong,but i don't think the government should dictate it.as i said if they want an abortion and it isn't legal they will find a way to do it~ illegal and then the butchers are out there again..
my point is it is up to the individual conscience,I would not personally have one~
I think this subject is being picked at because obama is president, and testing him. as i said it has been legal now 36 years? why all the fuss now? no not condemmed to hell for eternity, that is why Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, one has to only believe and ask..

rosco 357


Veteran
gypsy wrote: no not condemmed to hell for eternity, that is why Jesus died to forgive us of our sins, one has to only believe and ask..


this is exactly what i was going to write, then i saw u did so i just used it, i will only add one has to be sincere, its not like u can say well i will go do this then ask forgivness,

runawayhorses


Owner
Would somebody ask for forgiveness if they felt they were doing the right thing, if they were justified and welcomed to do it? Are you suggesting you can already know its wrong but still do it anyway becuase Jesus has already paid for our sins? We can never do anything that can send us to hell becuase Jesus has already prevented us from going? That is NOT what the Bible teaches, the Bible says if you sin you go to hell, period, if you ask to be forgiven it will be "considered" but should not be taken for granted. This "Forgiveness" junk is a cop-out to facing reality for ones actions, it BS.

rosco 357


Veteran
abortion is touchy, one reason is the supreme court may replace some judges on obamas watch, so roe vs wade is safe, it the shoe was on the othrer foot roe could be reversed, but i dont ever see that happening, gyp the court makes it not only a personnel decision, but also, an judicial one,

rosco 357


Veteran
the bible does not say, if u sin u go to hell period, or everyone would be in hell

gypsy


Moderator
no it does not say that we will perish for our sins, it says if we don't believe and ask forgiveness we will perish.. all sins are forgiven, but you have to be born again, believe in Jesus/God and if one does sin ask to be forgiven, that doesn't mean you plan to sin,.. also how many times will he forgive more than we can count~ it is all in belief~forgiveness and trying to be a Christian no one is perfect but Jesus/god

gypsy


Moderator
rosco 357 wrote:abortion is touchy, one reason is the supreme court may replace some judges on obamas watch, so roe vs wade is safe, it the shoe was on the othrer foot roe could be reversed, but i dont ever see that happening, gyp the court makes it not only a personnel decision, but also, an judicial one,
I agree to some extent Rosco, I guess it would have to have to government involved, or it would completely be out of control. I see your point..

runawayhorses


Owner
rosco 357 wrote:the bible does not say, if u sin u go to hell period, or everyone would be in hell
Oh, it just says if you SIN you will go to hell if you weren't forgiven before you die. It doesn't matter about the circumstances if you thought you were doing anything wrong, it only matters if you "ask forgiveness", even thou you don't know what you did wrong or why you should be asking for forgiveness.

Very good, that makes perfect sense..

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