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Obama Calls for ‘Common Ground’ on Abortion Debate

In his commencement speech at Notre Dame University, President Obama urged those on both sides of the abortion debate to seek "common ground" in dialogue on the divisive topic. Analysts examine public opinion on the abortion issue.

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    Now, a status report on the politics of abortion, and to Judy Woodruff.


    That's what it is: child-killing.


    Amid protests on and off campus, the president took the issue of abortion head on during a widely anticipated commencement address yesterday at the University of Notre Dame, one of the nation's most prominent Catholic universities.

    BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe, that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. That's when we begin to say, "Maybe we won't agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually. It has both moral and spiritual dimensions."


    Mr. Obama's call for a common ground came just a few days after the release of a new Gallup poll, which found that 51 percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, while 42 percent consider themselves pro- choice. That is a near reversal from last year's poll, and it marks the first time since Gallup began asking the question, in 1995, that the pro-life view has outweighed pro-choice.


    Thou shalt not kill!


    The decision by Notre Dame to invite Mr. Obama, whose views on issues such as abortion and stem cells stands in contrast to those of the Catholic Church, sparked protests off campus from hundreds of pro-life advocates.

    Some of the 2,900 graduating students also sought ways to express their pro-life views. About two dozen or so graduates reportedly did not attend the ceremony, while a handful of others engaged in silent protest, taping images of crosses and baby feet to their mortarboards.


    You have blood on your hands!


    Mr. Obama was also interrupted a couple of times by hecklers, who were quickly drowned out by the overwhelmingly supportive crowd.

    During his speech, the president acknowledged that differences of opinion over abortion were likely to remain, but said he hoped the tone of the debate could change.


    I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away, because, no matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that, at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.

    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. Open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words, it's a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition.


    The president's plea for open minds on abortion could face an early test, as the issue is likely to be at the center of debate over the president's pick to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.