Obama's Notre Dame Abortion Talk is Cheap—Let's See Some Action

Legal and safe? Check. Rare? They still have work to do.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It is always praiseworthy when a president of the United States ventures onto potentially hostile turf. Presidents are elected to represent all Americans, not just the folks that voted for them—a fact they too often forget. Indeed, I would like to see Barack Obama spend some time in Alabama and Mississippi and Nebraska this term. The simple act of visiting says a lot to folks, on both sides of the partisan divide.

Obama's recent trips to Arizona State and Notre Dame, to speak at college commencements where he might expect to meet conservative disapproval, qualify as presidential outreach. So does his surprise appointment of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to be the U.S. ambassador to China. Good for the president. His speeches were, typically, well-crafted and well-received. And the Huntsman appointment succeeds on every level I can think of.    

President Audacity needs to take the next step now. Words are important. So is the symbolism of a prominent appointment. But, in the end, talk is cheap.      

Since Bill Clinton and Al Gore started talking about making abortion "legal, safe, and rare" back in the 1990s, the Democrats have done everything they can to keep the procedure safe and legal, and not much at all to make it rare.      

With different wording, Obama used the same formula yesterday at Notre Dame. Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean have tried to defuse the abortion issue in recent years, with similar appeals and promises. "Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available," Obama said at Notre Dame.

OK, Democrats. We hear you. It is indeed a laudable goal. And now it is time to show us you mean it. Make it happen.    

It won't be easy. There are many competing fiscal demands, and insistent domestic and foreign emergencies. There is a sizable contingent of American women who may view such attempts (with historic justification) as a curtailment of their freedom. On the other side, there are anti-abortion activists and Catholic bishops who won't support a public policy that aims to merely manage and reduce what they perceive as a great evil, instead of ending it.      

But Obama has this going for him: He connects with a new generation of voters who grew up with, and take for granted, the cultural liberties that their parents demanded and won. This new generation can examine these liberties with a distance that older cohorts, who fought so hard for them, cannot. Polls show, specifically, that younger voters have far more skepticism about abortion than their parents. Films like Juno and Knocked Up would have been scorned as reactionary indoctrination in past decades, but are popular, even with liberal elites, today.      

I'm not talking about repealing Roe v. Wade. And I'm certainly not saying that Obama should put another conservative white guy on the Supreme Court.

But there are concrete steps, involving birth control and public education and adoption and prenatal counseling and maternal care, that can be taken by and with our younger generations (which, after all, are the ones making babies these days) that will actually make abortion rarer, if not yet rare.

Team Audacity needs to recognize that time is passing. Words should be followed by actions. Now.

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