Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Wake Up the Echoes

By Shawn Healy
President Obama's speech at Notre Dame this past Sunday was laden with controversy that centered primarily on the contentious issue of abortion. Protesters peppered the scene and early on even interrupted the speech, but his remarks went on regardless, and to the president's credit, he embraced rather than wiggled away from the subject of their scorn.

Abortion emerged as the acid test of the culture wars in the aftermath of the 1973, all-or-nothing, Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. The Court has since revisited the issue, at times chipping away at abortion rights (parental notification, restrictions on late term abortions), but Roe has stood the test of time and is largely considered stare decisis, or settled law, by the legal community.

Abortion is sure to rise to the fore once more in the weeks to come as President Obama introduces his first Supreme Court nominee to replace the retiring Justice Souter. Ironically, many of the left feared Souter's appointment to the Court, predicting that he would provide the decisive fifth vote to overturn Roe. Little did they know that this "stealth" Justice would drift to the liberal bloc and stand as an adamant defender of the landmark decision.

Interesting enough, despite President Obama's decisive victory in the November election, American's are slowly moving away from his pro-choice position on abortion. According to an article on, parsing a new Gallup poll, "The percentage of Americans who identify as 'pro-life' jumped from 44 percent to 51 percent in the last year, according to the poll. Those who identify as 'pro-choice' fell from 50 percent to 42 percent over the same period."

Short of a sea change, these numbers provide testament to the fact that Americans continue to hold complicated, and sometimes conflicting views on abortion. But deep fissures remain, and Obama acknowledged them in his speech.

The president said "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. 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. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

If the differences are indeed "irreconcilable," how can we progress as a society and avoid South Bend-like standoffs? Obama's olive branch included working to make abortion more rare, to prevent unwanted pregnancies, to care for mothers who bring their babies to term, and to make adoption more accessible. He also held out conscience clauses for medical practitioners and enhanced health care ethics that respect women's rights.

These specific prescriptions aside, there is value in constructive dialogue over this issue and others. President Obama and Notre Dame refused to shirk controversy and a national conversation ensued. Let's hope a healthy debate continues.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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