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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is It Enough to Talk About Abortion With "Fair-Minded Words"?

This afternoon I happened upon this YouTube video showing a snippet of President Barack Obama's 2009 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. I was actually present in person for this speech, and I remember this segment as one of the most disingenuous parts. In fact, I myself was almost - almost - taken in by the apparent reasonableness of it.

Here's what he said:

A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, 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."

The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person, he supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. 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.

And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

Many commentators later cheered him as sounding so "reasonable." But if you translate this into plain English, what does it come down to? Barack Obama supports the legal right to kill a baby in the womb. And he understandably wants to "fight" those who disagree with him on that. Well, his encounter with this doctor taught him that both of those things are just fine - he doesn't have to "change his underlying position," as long as he talks nice about pro-lifers.

Too often, both sides of the abortion debate treat it as something that's merely academic. Is this killing a baby or isn't it? Who knows? Your opinion is just as good as mine. And as long as we chill out and "presume good faith" on the part of our opponents, we can continue forever, deadlocked in our diametrically opposed positions, and everything will be just hunky-dory. Meanwhile, the killing of babies continues, and no one is paying attention to this, the heart of the matter.

Enough with the rhetorical games. Science clearly proves that abortion kills a living human being. There is no question about that. Either we will (individually and collectively) take a stand and end this injustice or we won't. All President Obama did at the University of Notre Dame was to confuse people into thinking that they can opt-out of this decision. After all, the most that can be asked of us is that we speak about the fundamental civil rights issue of our time in "fair-minded words."

And ironically, a baby cries in the background during this part of his speech, reminding us that this topic encompasses more than just the words we use to talk about it.

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