Amid protests over his positions on abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, President Obama spoke to graduates at the University of Notre Dame about coming together over disagreements by finding "common ground."
"Maybe we won't agree on abortion," Obama said during a speech interrupted by both hecklers and standing ovations, "but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually. It has both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let's work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available. Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their child to term."
Other presidents have come to Notre Dame, and many had differences with the church -- as George W. Bush did on the death penalty and the Iraq war -- but none has faced the kind of organized uprising facing President Obama as he delivered a commencement speech and received an honorary law degree.
Obama responded with a call for "open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words," after entering an abortion battleground at the nation's pre-eminent Catholic university in South Bend, Ind.
"I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away," Obama said. "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."
Though Obama entered to applause, flashed a thumbs-up sign, and received standing ovations when receiving his honorary doctorate and delivering his speech, not everybody was happy.
In the emotional run-up to the speech, it didn't seem to matter to many conservative Catholics and anti-abortion groups what Obama said. To them, his support for abortion rights made him unqualified to be at the commencement ceremony.
"The concern is whether the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university, upholds Catholic teachings or not -- and in this case, they are betraying the Catholic faith," said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization whose stated purpose is "renewing and strengthening Catholic identity" at the nation's 224 Catholic universities and colleges.
"President Obama is so sufficiently and strongly in opposition to the church teaching on these issues [such as abortion and embryonic stem-cell research] that it's completely inappropriate for Notre Dame to have him there," Reilly said.
In addition to a vocal hecklers who interrupted Obama's speech, protesters converged today on the university's front gates, and at least 27 people were arrested on tresspassing charges, police told the Associated Press.
Those arrested have included Norma McCorvey -- the "Roe" in the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion -- who now is an anti-abortion protester.
The anti-abortion movement had earlier called for the resignation of the university president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, launched an online petition signed by more than 360,000 and lined the roads with posters of aborted fetuses -- a display that prompted at least one flash of anger from the general South Bend-area population.
"I shouldn't have to teach my 12-year-old what abortion is!" one woman yelled at a protester.