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May 22, 2009



Thanks for the extensive response. I'm sure I won't address everything adequately, but I may revisit later too.

The point from your original post that I started off responding to was this: "...[Obama] was willing and ready to engage directly with his opponents on this issue, and do so not from a position of conflict but from one of seeking mutual common ground." And I agree with this, that he is ready and willing in large part to engage on this sort of level.

What strikes me as shortsighted, however, is to recognize that Obama advocates keeping abortion legal, "not from a position of conflict" while assuming that,

"On the conservative end, there was probably litterally [sic] nothing Obama could have said short of "I renounce my support for abortion rights and fully support a constitutional ban on abortions," that would have pleased them."

My point is simply that on Obama's end, there is a similar sense that, short of accepting a situation of recognized "abortion rights", nothing the pro-life movement has said would have pleased him.

Language of common ground is helpful, but there's no very clear sense of what that ground is. Depending upon who is speaking, certain groups may or may not be within the pale of those "seeking mutual common ground" in advocating for opinions that are a matter of dispute.

I don't disagree with you that a rights-bearing fetus doesn't imply a complete restriction of abortion; in fact, I'm not supportive of a complete restriction of abortion (although I'd also say that I think Thompson's characterization of the disputed rights of the violinist is problematic). I'm not trying to prove anything wrong about your position on abortion, its coherence, or the worthwhile goal of advocating for what you believe on this.

All I'm trying to say is that Obama's seeking of mutual common ground is no different than Bush's. In both cases the basic questions of this debate are not a matter of common agreement, and we can only speak in a very tentative sense of what is common ground. In both cases there is a good faith recognition that the opposition makes a heartfelt and important case. And in both cases, law simply has to be made or remade as needed, whether or not everyone will be pleased with it. As you say, certain constituencies will probably never be pleased.

I'm just trying to call a spade a spade and say that mutual dialogue is a good thing, but we should not try to fool ourselves about whether the Obama administration has been uniquely cooperative or attentive to those who disagree. I'm not saying he's been inattentive, but I'm saying that pro-choice advocates under Bush were just as impossible to please as pro-life advocates under Obama.

On the constructive work to reduce abortions, we also need to consider that strategies to achieve this goal also overlap with other questions of political concern... that is, yes, sex education will reduce abortion, but education policy has its own problems and goals. Yes, social services will reduce abortion, but they have their own costs and are their own concern apart from the question of abortion. That's not to deny the importance of considering them, but just to say that someone can disagree with these policy solutions without thus being contradictory about their commitment to reduce abortions. On the other hand, it's also worth considering that reducing abortions is not the only basic goal of the abortion problem. The argument might be similar to those who are opposed to capital punishment. Certainly it is sensible to tighten standards of evidence and make sure that capital punishment is reduced in practice to cases of absolute necessity, but for someone who is opposed to the practice outright, this isn't in itself a viable solution or the ultimate goal, even if it's something where some compromise can be reached. Part of the goal of the pro-life movement is to end a culture where abortion could be considered a viable option, and that's a different goal than simply assisting more people so that the moral viability of abortion doesn't need to be considered one way or the other.


"You make policy on the basis of what you think is the right thing to do. If you convince enough people, you get elected -- or reelected. If you overstep, you lose the next election. Policy isn't about making everyone happy all the time. And what Obama demonstrates that many of his opponenets [sic] don't is a willingness to listen to and take seriously other points of view."

I would agree with this, but it's worth clarifying that a political mandate is not the same as common ground. What you're saying here is the same thing that Bush said in 2004 about cashing in political capital. Which, again, is fine. But it's not particularly cooperative in any way, and when you follow up this comment by saying that Obama is more willing to listen or even implement other points of view, I think your argument is on rather unsteady ground. Again, not because I think Obama is uncooperative, but because I think you underestimate the extent to which 1) the opposition is trying to work cooperatively and constructively and 2) the extent to which Obama's gestures at cooperation are undercut but his radically different basic stance of toleration of abortion (that is... what you think prevents many of his opponents from seeking common ground- a basic insistence against the moral viability of abortion as a matter of human rights- is the same sort of thing that prevents Obama from seeking common ground in the eyes of his opponents- a basic tolerance of a grave human rights violation).

Ed Darrell

I think Obama is seeking common ground. He has done little to make abortion more easily available. He's done nothing to slow the terroristic attacks on abortion providers and abortion seekers. He urged dialogue at Notre Dame (a point the Vatican picked up on, but few anti-women protesters in the U.S. did).

Allowing people to make their own decisions about whether to have children and when is not radical in any sense.


"Allowing people to make their own decisions about whether to have children and when is not radical in any sense."

Of course it's not. No one's disagreeing about that. Even the most stringent Catholic opponents of contraceptives support alternatives like NFP. The opposition of the pro-life movement to abortion has nothing to do with an opposition to decisions about whether or when to have children, in the same way that an opposition to infanticide has nothing to do with it.

Please try to understand the other side that you claim to be dialoging with. Language of "anti-women" is no more helpful than "baby-killer" language. Don't tell us you're seeking common ground and call us misogynist in the same breath- that's incredibly patronizing.

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Scott Paeth teaches Religious Studies at DePaul University