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Obama answers Notre Dame hecklers with ‘fair-minded words’

The speech underlined the president's desire to elevate public discourse on issues such as abortion in order to find common ground.

President Obama waved to the crowd before his commencement speech Sunday at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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President Obama used his graduation address at the University of Notre Dame as a teachable moment.

Mr. Obama did not skirt the matter of the mounting protests here, which objected to the president – who supports abortion rights – addressing a Catholic school. Rather, he made it the central point of his speech, underscoring what has become a bedrock tenet of this administration: a commitment to a more civil and substantive dialogue both here and abroad in an effort to find common ground.

At Notre Dame, he spoke of “fair-minded words.”

It had a direct application to Sunday’s speech. Outside the auditorium, an estimated 100 protesters gathered to decry the president’s positions on abortion and stem-cell research. Inside, four hecklers interrupted proceedings.

Obama responded to them indirectly by recounting an e-mail he received several years ago from a doctor who opposed abortion rights. Taking issue with a comment on Obama’s website that seemingly portrayed all antiabortion activists as rabid ideologues, the doctor wrote: "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words," Obama recounted.

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