the Obama administration and the sanctity of human life

Last evening, Catholic University of America (CUA) held a discussion entitled “The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life: Is There a Common Ground on Life Issues? What is the Right Response by ‘Pro-Life’ Citizens?” The discussion, featuring Professor Robert George and Professor Doug Kmiec, and moderated by the Honorable Mary Ann Glendon, was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. (A complete description of the event may be found here.)


I’ve transcribed the introduction by Professor William Wagner to give you a sense of the nature and format of the discussion:

Good afternoon.

I’m Professor William Wagner, the director of Catholic University’s Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture. It’s my pleasure to welcome you here today to a public exchange of views on the topic of The Obama Administration and the Sanctity of Human Life: Is There a Common Ground on Life Issues? What is the Right Response by Pro-Life Citizens? Today’s event features presentations and discussions by two leading scholars and political commentators, both Roman Catholics, and both members of the pro-life community, presenting two different perspectives on the current administration’s policies regarding such issues as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, and their impact on societal attitudes regarding respect for human life.

The purpose of the event is to advance understanding within the pro-life intellectual community in the United States of the issues, of what potential for common ground exists with the Obama administration on life issues, and what, in any event, is the right response of the pro-life community to the new administration.

The coverage in the press of issues relating to Obama’s recent appearance at Notre Dame University indicates that discourse within the Catholic and pro-life communities on this question is of general interest to members of the American public. We are very pleased that members of our audience today represent not just the pro-life community, but other communities of discourse within the United States as well. These members of our audience are most cordially welcome.

We hope that the exchange of views we will hear today will be of value not just to members of the pro-life community, but to all members of the American public, regardless of their view on these issues.

You will note that today’s event is billed as a discussion and not a debate. For it is not a debate. It is intended to present for the audience’s consideration a fuller presentation of views on both sides of the question to be compared and considered within the largest possible lens. The tenor of our event is much in accord with the challenge posed by the nation’s president while he was at Notre Dame. I quote him: “The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort as citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy? How do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles and fight for what we consider right without demonizing those with just as strongly-held convictions on the other side?”

The Catholic University’s Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture — the sponsor of today’s event — exists to promote inquiry into the role of law in relation to culture and culture’s orientation to the human good. The scope of its inquiry is both theoretical and practical. In its theoretical aspect, the Center aims to contribute to the academic fields of jurisprudence and the philosophy of law, as well as to Christian political and social ethics. In the practical dimension, it seeks to foster renewal and transformation of culture under contemporary circumstances through law and law reform.

In the President’s remarks just mentioned, he concluded by calling for open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words. This is good. In the present setting, under the sponsorship of our Center, we would want, however, to clarify and make explicit what the President certainly meant to leave as implicit: What do we leave our hearts and minds open to, in particular? So as we convene this discussion today, let us leave our minds open to the truth, and our hearts open to love for one another in the light of our Creator’s love for all of us.

I will now shortly turn the floor over to our able moderator, the Honorable Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and former United States Ambassador to the Holy See. Before I do, allow me to say just a word about our format. Professor Glendon will speak for several minutes, not just to introduce our speakers, but further to introduce our topic. Then she will keep time as each speaker presents in turn. Each speaker will come to the podium to give a twenty minute presentation of his basic viewpoint. Thereafter… the moderator and the two speakers will sit before us and Professor Glendon will pose questions to the speakers. She will then also read questions from the audience for the speakers to consider in turn. Monitors are prepared to pass out note cards to the audience. You’re invited to write down questions as they occur to you and pass them to the outside of your aisles, to be assembled to be given to Professor Glendon. And then each speaker will have a brief time for closing comments.

Professor Glendon…

Professor George’s opening remarks are now posted on the Public Discourse website here. A snip:

The common ground I am interested in is with pro-life Americans who, like Professor Kmiec, have supported the President politically. The election is over, and the current question is not who anyone thinks will do the best job as President, or even whether one may legitimately support candidates who deny the fundamental dignity and right to life of unborn human beings and who promise to protect and extend the abortion license and expand the funding of embryo-destructive research. The question is: On which issues will we support the President’s direction, and on which will we challenge him because he is heading in the wrong direction? Those pro-life Americans who voted for him and support him should not object when we speak for the most vulnerable and defenseless of our fellow human beings, even when that means severely criticizing the President’s policies. They should stand with us on common ground, and join their voices with ours.

You can watch the streaming video of the entire event on CUA website here.

If you simply want to listen to the audio, I’ve created an MP3 audio podcast available on my podcast feed, or directly here.

Additional resources:
Dawn Eden was there and files this report about Kmiec’s answer to a question she had submitted.

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