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Controversy Awaits Obama At Notre Dame

(AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
President Barack Obama travels to South Bend, Indiana, Sunday to deliver the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.

His visit has rallied anti-abortion rights activists who say the Catholic university should not have invited a president who favors abortion rights to speak at such an event, nor confer on to him an honorary degree.

The Catholic Church condemns abortion.

On Saturday, dozens, and at times perhaps 100 demonstrators, lined the sidewalks at the gates of university, holding anti-abortion rights signs. Nineteen were arrested for trespassing onto university property. None of the people taken into custody were students.

A small airplane flew overhead towing a sign that said "Abortion is terror," accompanied by a picture of an unborn, bloodied fetus.

Students say the President's visit to the university has sparked a dialogue on campus, but that the most visible opposition is coming from groups unaffiliated with Notre Dame.

"Students on both sides have been trying to keep it civil [and] have an intelligent discussion about their disagreements," says senior Spencer Howard, president of Notre Dame's College Democrats. "Outside of campus it's been a little more intense," he said.

An independent anti-abortion rights group has erected billboards on the major highway leading to South Bend, decrying the president's visit. The billboards say: "NOTRE DAME: Obama is pro abortion choice. How dare you honor him."

A coalition of about a dozen Notre Dame student groups - including Notre Dame College Republicans and Notre Dame Right to Life - have formed "ND Response" to peacefully protest Obama's visit.

"This is not political," says junior Edward Yap, a spokesman for ND Response and former president of Notre Dame College Republicans. "I would be immensely happy if a [pro-life] democrat came to campus … Our issue is really a religious and a moral issue."

"ND Response" plans to hold a peaceful prayer vigil Sunday during commencement exercises for graduating seniors who have decided not to attend the President's address.