Obama at Notre Dame -- Let the Listening On Abortion Begin

For the first time in three decades an American politician is willing to start a conversation that others have avoided since Rove vs. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1972. President Obama made a politically fearless but a politically high-risk move by accepting the invitation to speak at one of America's great Catholic universities --Notre Dame. The president gets invitations to speak at almost every college graduation in the United States and he chose to speak at Notre Dame. As Itzhak Rabin once noted -- you can only make peace with your enemies. By speaking at an institution that is part of the Catholic Church the president seeks to cross what, heretofore, has been a seeming unbridgeable divide.


For the first time in decades we have an open-minded president who has announced that he is prepared to listen and learn from those who disagree with him.

The two main opponents in the abortion debate standing in the corner talking to themselves will not solve the issue of abortion. Until now politicians have taken the safe route of preaching to the choir -- liberal politicians talking to pro-choice audience and conservatives talking to anti-abortion groups. President Obama is now going to where no politician has gone before. In doing so he risks alienating some important constituencies such as blue collar Catholics and others who are strongly against the right to choose.

But this issue goes directly to the definition of leadership. If President Obama is genuinely president of all the people then he must be prepared to address the concerns of those people who may vehemently disagree with him. There are also real compromises that can be made -- especially around the issue of late term abortions. I have always advocated for setting up a system similar to hospital transplant boards for late term abortions. These boards make decisions about who gets to receive an organs and who does not. A similar system could be set up for late term abortions. Neither side of the debate would be happy but that is the nature of compromise.

As a liberal I hope that President Obama opens some minds on this issue. But as a person who believes that the president must be willing to be a leader and create open dialogue it may well be that he'll learn a thing or two from those who disagree with him. The large point is that unless these conversations take place between those on opposite sides of the issue the country will go nowhere. Think of the range of issues where the country has gone nowhere: abortion, immigration, gun control, Social Security and Health care reform. For the first time in decades we have an open-minded president who has announced that he is prepared to listen and learn from those who disagree with him.

Remember, it was President Obama who invited Pastor Rick Warren to speak at his Inauguration despite protests from gay supporters. It was President Obama who, despite protests from anti-war activists, has recommitted to winning the war in Afghanistan. This is a president who, despite the understandable efforts of the Republicans to paint him as a liberal cannot be so easily boxed in. Democracy is really a large conversation among people who disagree. I am glad we finally have a president prepared to speak its language.

Ellen Ratner joined Fox News Channel as a contributor in October 1997. Currently, Ratner serves as chief political correspondent and news analyst for "Talk Radio News Service" where she analyzes events, reports breaking news, and provides lively interviews with newsmakers in government and entertainment. She is founder of "Goats for the Old Goat." Over the last three years, donations have been made to acquire goats for liberated slaves who were returning to South Sudan. More than 7,000 goats have been donated to the people of South Sudan to provide sustainable sustenance for their families and a means to begin their lives again.