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Obama speech at Notre Dame grapples with abortion issues

UNITED States President Barack Obama strode head-on into the stormy abortion debate and told graduates at one of America's leading Roman Catholic universities that both sides must stop demonizing one another.

Obama acknowledged that "no matter how much we want to fudge it, the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable." But he still implored the University of Notre Dame's graduating class and all in the United States to stop "reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It's a way of life that always has been the Notre Dame tradition."

One of the noisiest controversies of his presidency flared after Obama, who supports abortion rights but says the procedure should be rare, was invited to speak at the school and receive an honorary degree.

Ahead of the speech, at least 27 people were arrested on trespassing charges outside the university, police said. They included Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff identified as "Roe" in the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. She now opposes abortion and joined more than 300 demonstrators at the school's front gate.

More than half held signs, some declaring "Shame on Notre Dame" and "Stop Abortion Now" to express their anger over Notre Dame's invitation to Obama.

On campus, Obama entered the arena to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. But as he began his address, at least three protesters interrupted it. One yelled: "Stop killing our children."

The graduates responded by chanting: "Yes we can," the slogan that became synonymous with Obama's presidential campaign, as well as "We are 'ND'."

The US president said those on each side of the debate "can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions."


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