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McGurn: Abortion not a political issue

John Tierney | Saturday, April 25, 2009

Abortion is an “intrinsic evil” and not a “political difference,” said William McGurn, the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush in a lecture entitled “Notre Dame: A Witness for Life” Thursday.

“Abortion as a legal right is less a single issue than an entire ethic that serves as the foundation stone for the culture of death,” McGurn, a 1980 graduate of the University and former staff writer for The Observer, said.

While many people view abortion as a divisive issue, McGurn argued that it is an issue on which people should be able to agree.

“This is where people can come together, without compromising their other differences,” McGurn said.

He said he proposed that Notre Dame hold a “summit of pro-life Democrats … to come here to make the Notre Dame statement for life.”

“There are a lot of Democrats I disagree with, but our country’s richer when we’re standing together on life,” McGurn said.

Abortion is not, according to McGurn, “one issue on a political scorecard.”

Notre Dame should stand united on the proposition that “the unborn belong to no political party; no human right is safe when the right to life is denied; and we will accept no calculus of justice that seeks to trade that right to life for any other,” McGurn said.

He agreed that other human rights, including war and capital punishment, “deserve serious treatment.”

But he argued that “all pleas for other important human rights are ‘false and illusory’ if we do not defend with ‘maximum determination’ the fundamental right to life upon which all other rights rest.”

These other rights are contingent on the protection of the right to life, according to McGurn.

“The unborn child’s right to life represents the defining civil rights issue of our day,” McGurn said.

As a civil rights issue, abortion is an issue of morality, not of politics, he said.

“I don’t think we have to share our politics to share our principles,” he said.

Catholics are called to be “witnesses to life,” McGurn said.

“To be a witness, an institution must order itself so that all who look upon it see a consonance between its most profound truths and its most public actions,” he said.

This witness to life is the essence of the Catholic character of the University, according to McGurn.

“This witness is the only real reason for a University of Notre Dame,” he said.

The witness is derived from the belief that “self-evident truths about the dignity of each human life” truly exist, McGurn said.

Legalized abortions threaten these truths and the dignity of the human existence.

“A civilization which sanctions abortion as a human right is in some essential way writing its death warrant,” McGurn said.

Notre Dame holds an important role in the debate over abortion, McGurn said. The University “remains one of the few institutions capable of providing a witness for life in the fullness of its beauty and intellectual integrity,” he said. “America is waiting to hear her voice.”

Notre Dame should work to “engage” its guests who do not agree with Catholic teaching, such as President Barack Obama, who will deliver the University’s Commencement address next month, according to McGurn.

This engagement should be “cordial” and “gracious” and the University should be open to debate, he said.

However, to bring a guest who rejects the right to life to the University “on the idea that all that divided us was one political issue” would be a betrayal of the witness, McGurn said.

Despite the University’s decision to invite Obama for the Commencement address, McGurn argues that “the witness for life is alive at Notre Dame.” He cites the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life, the work of teacher and the students who attended the March for Life in January as examples of the strength of this witness.

McGurn said that he is not worried about what Obama will say at Commencement.

“I worry about the symbol,” he said.

He also encouraged those who disagree with the invitation to allow the seniors to have their graduation.

“I don’t think people should have their graduation disrupted,” McGurn said. “I think you can have a protest, but I don’t think you should be rude.”

He expressed his disappointment with the “unwise” decision to invite Obama.

“I am very disappointed with [University President] Fr. John Jenkins right now,” McGurn said.

However, he did not call for Jenkins’ resignation.

“Even if he resigned, my issue [that Notre Dame be a witness to life] would still be here,” McGurn said.

“I would just like Notre Dame to be as consistent in advancing her positions as President Obama is with his,” he said.

McGurn’s lecture was sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture, “in the spirit of Fr. Jenkins’s call to dialogue,” Center for Ethics and Culture director David Solomon said.