President Obama Calls for Debate on Abortion

Wayne Jackson
On May 17, 2009, President Obama called for a sensible debate on abortion during his commencement speech at Notre Dame University. However, when he was asked directly, “At what point does a baby get human rights?” by Rick Warren, the President ducked with the best of them: “that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.”

On the day following his controversial appearance at Notre Dame University’s commencement ceremonies (May 17, 2009), newspaper headlines touted his speech at the influential Catholic institution: “Obama calls for sensible abortion debate.” This came after days of protesting, followed by a number of arrests and jail-time—including former presidential candidate, Alan Keyes, and a popular Catholic priest.

Perhaps a “sensible abortion debate” would be in order, since our president is clearly conflicted on this issue. This article is not intended to be a political assessment of the president, nor to denigrate him personally. It is designed to deal with one point—the abortion controversy.

During the campaign, candidate Obama was asked: “When does a baby get human rights?” His answer was:

Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

What does pay grade have to do with the facts?

Consider some of the things the president said in his speech at Notre Dame: “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away.” He is right; this controversy should not be shoved aside. It is a life-and-death matter and someone is wrong about it—dead wrong!

Mr. Obama went on to say: “No matter how much we want to fudge it ... the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”

That is precisely the case. One camp contends a pregnant woman has a baby in her body; the other alleges it is a non-baby—a disposable piece of tissue. It’s that simple, and any fair-minded person knows it.

The president protests what he calls the “caricature” of opposing views, insisting that “fair-minded words” must be employed in the debate. A caricature is a distortion that casts one’s opponent in a ridiculous light. Fair words are words that accurately convey an opponent’s position.

Was the president charging the pro-choice defenders with caricature and the employment of unfair jargon? I don’t think so; but if so, what are some examples? On the other hand, pro-life advocates do use strong language and feel such is entirely warranted. A baby is killed. The practice is labeled infanticide, or baby-murder. It appears this was the focus of the president’s barb.

While we are on the subject, let’s look at the vocabulary involved in this “debate.” Words come in different packages. For example, there are synonyms and there are antonyms. Synonyms are words that mean the same thing; antonyms are opposite terms. One would think that logical people could tell the difference between the two. Let us examine a few of the chosen descriptives.

What is the opposite of “pro-life”? It is not “pro-choice.” “Life” and “choice” are not opposites. It is pro-death." But the advocates of abortion would not dare adopt that expression. It is too dramatic, too volatile, too loaded—too true! Such would be bad public relations. So, with obvious obfuscation they take refuge behind the more socially acceptable “pro-choice.” This expression calls for further amplification. “Choice” implies options; choice to do what? This is where the vocabulary slope becomes slippery. The choice is to eliminate, eradicate, or terminate. But this does not resolve the problem.

The next issue is: terminate what? Is this “thing” an “inert globule of organic matter” (a self-conflicting descriptive), a zygote, a blastocyst, an embryo, or a fetus? These are terms employed to describe different stages of gestational development. But do they define whether the “it” is human or non-human? It must be one or the other. This is about like using the words “baby,” “child,” “teen,” “adult,” and “senior.” Do these expressions refer to humans or non-humans?

If those who oppose abortion are called anti-abortionists, why aren’t those in the opposite camp labeled as pro-abortionists, instead of that euphonic pro-choice? If President Obama’s fair-language policy is to prevail, he has considerable work to do among his political allies.

Let’s think about this issue from a coldly logical vantage point. Upon what core issues can all sides agree?

  1. When a male sperm and a female egg unite, something happens. Something is henceforth there.
  2. That something either is living or non-living. Is there a third option? Clearly it is living. It takes nourishment and receives oxygen. It exhibits movement. It undergoes cell replication. This is undeniable.
  3. This living thing either is human or non-human. Its DNA identifies it as human. If it is non-human, the issue is resolved. It may be eliminated at any time, at any stage, and for any purpose.

We take the lives of plants and animals to be used for a higher good without hesitation. The assumption of civilized society always has been, however, that human life constitutes an entirely different category.

The president clearly believes and supports the theory that the lives of pre-born infants are subject to the choices of society’s democratic process. He obviously chooses not to believe that a living human being is purposefully killed in the abortion procedure.

Since this is the case, why does he call for us to “reduce the number of women seeking abortions”? What’s wrong with this logic?