If there was any doubt that abortion remains the most divisive issue in the United States, it was on full display Sunday as President Obama delivered the commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame. After receiving an honorary law degree, the pro-choice President was booed several times during his speech at the high-profile Catholic school.
President Obama tried to appeal to those on both sides of the debate, explaining that he thinks abortion should be legal, but rare. He said a respectful dialogue is necessary:
"I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. 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."
Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the archbishop of Chicago, said last month at the "Gospel of Life" conference that Notre Dame "brought extreme embarrassment" to Catholics by honoring Mr. Obama, and said the university "didn't understand what it what it means to be a Catholic when they issued this invitation."
According to a 2004 document published by the USCCB called Catholics in Political Life, Catholic institutions should not honor or give a platform to politicians who do not agree with fundamental Catholic principals:
"Those who formulate law therefore have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws, lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good."
The USCCB's position on abortion is clear and unequivocal:
"The USCCB advocates for policies that protect and respect human life and dignity... seeks to eliminate legalized abortion; opposes domestic and foreign abortion funding and efforts to force states and health plans to fund abortion; and supports medical research that respects human life."
At it's annual conference in November 2008, a statement from Cardinal George spoke for all of the Bishops, whom he said are "single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted:"
"Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men... Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion."
But the group does not limit itself only to measures that would outlaw abortion. For example, it currently supports the "Pregnant Women Support Act," a bill that is moving its way through Congress. In a letter urging its passage, Cardinal Justin Rigali wrote that the bill:
“...reaches out to women with a helping hand when they are most vulnerable, and most engaged in making a decision about life or death for their unborn children. It provides an authentic common ground, an approach that people can embrace regardless of their position on other issues.”
Read the Opposing Views debate, Can Catholics Vote for Pro-Choice Politicians?