LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
President Obama will be the commencement speaker at three college graduations this spring. But the one attracting the most attention is today's address at the University of Notre Dame. Dozens of Roman Catholic bishops have protested the school's decision to honor Mr. Obama, whose support of abortion rights is at odds with Catholic teaching. And the president's appearance has become a lightning rod for anti-abortion activists both on and off campus.
NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now. Scott, the president has said he wants to tamp down the anger over the abortion issue. It seems like this has turned the heat up.
SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right. Notre Dame, of course, is the biggest Catholic university in the country. So anything that happens under the golden dome carries special significance. And there is a vocal anti-abortion element on campus that's been making its voice heard. But the anger you're hearing about Mr. Obama's appearance is not coming just from Notre Dame, or even just from Catholics. Anti-abortion activists from all faiths have seized on this speech as an opportunity to grab the spotlight.
You know, we have a vacancy to fill this summer on the Supreme Court, so that always puts abortion on the front burner. Anti-abortion forces have lost a couple of rounds at the ballot box recently. So there's a lot of conflict surrounding this issue. For all that, though, a majority of Notre Dame students say they welcome Mr. Obama and are glad he's coming to visit.
HANSEN: Do you have any idea what's in his speech? What he's likely to say?
HORSLEY: Well, some have been urging the president to use this speech to elaborate on what he said at the Democratic convention last summer and what he said since then about trying to find common ground and look for ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But it doesn't sound as if that's going to be the focus of his remarks.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the president would acknowledge the controversy. He really can't ignore it. But Mr. Gibbs said that the president sees the commencement as primarily a celebration for graduates and their families. And that he won't try to turn it into something else, even if that is what the anti-abortion forces have tried to do.
HANSEN: The president continues to enjoy strong support from Catholics. Do you think this is likely to undermine that?
HORSLEY: Well, you know, the Catholic position has not been monolithic here. There have been some Catholics who have defended Mr. Obama and also defended Notre Dame as an academic institution where all sorts of voices should be heard. Of course, President Obama won the Catholic vote last November. He also won Indiana, a traditionally red state where Notre Dame is located, so it's no accident he's back there.
But there is some new polling data that came out of the Pew Research Center that found a big gap between attitudes of Catholics in general who support Notre Dame's invitation and the most devout Catholics who attend Mass weekly. In that group, only a little over a third thought it was right for Notre Dame to honor Mr. Obama. And so those weekly Mass-goers are really more like Evangelical Protestants. It seems like when it comes to politics, how often one goes to church may be a bigger factor than which church you go to.
HANSEN: NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Liane.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.