Obama tells pope he will try to limit US abortions

(RAW STORY)   US President Barack Obama had a warm first meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Friday during which he pledged to try to limit the number of abortions in the United States.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the promise was “very explicit” during a 40-minute meeting at the Vatican, their first since Obama took office in January.

“The pontiff told me that President Obama affirmed his personal commitment to try to reduce the number of abortions in the United States,” Lombardi told a news briefing.

Issues that “constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation, … such as the defence and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience” were the first that the two men addressed, the Vatican said in a communique.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier that on subjects such as abortion, “even if we don’t see eye to eye on everything, there are steps that can be taken on a number of issues that will show progress, whether it’s on something like unintended pregnancy or adoption.”

One of Obama’s first acts as president was to end his predecessor George W. Bush’s restrictions on government funding for embryonic stem cell research and for family planning groups that carry out or facilitate abortions overseas.

After the audience, the conservative pope, a staunch opponent of abortion and contraception, offered Obama a copy of an “instruction” on reproductive technology, issued in December last year.

The document titled “Dignitas Personae” (Dignity of the Person) lists biomedical techniques considered “illicit” by the Roman Catholic Church such as the therapeutic use of stem cells and the use of the “morning-after” contraceptive pill.

The US president and the pope, head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, notably see eye to eye on policy in the Middle East.

Obama has made relaunching the peace process there a top priority, pledging a new beginning for Islam and the United States in a landmark speech to the world’s Muslims delivered in Cairo last month.

The Vatican called this a “significant” step toward better ties.

The White House later said Obama urged the pope to keep reminding all parties to Middle East peace efforts of their “responsibilities”.

During the one-on-one talk, Obama underlined his commitment to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and “expressed appreciation for the longstanding efforts of the Holy See and the pope himself in promoting that,” Deputy US National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told reporters.

The US president told Benedict XVI that “all sides have responsibilities in this effort” and vowed to continue delivering that message, McDonough said aboard Obama’s official Air Force One airplane as he traveled to Ghana.

Obama also “expressed his hope that the holy father would continue to do that as well, including responsibilities that we believe are important, not just from Israelis but also from the neighboring Arab states,” said McDonough.

Obama and the pope also discussed the outcome of the just-ended Group of Eight summit that the US leader attended in nearby L’Aquila.

Photographers at the Vatican overheard Obama telling the pope that the summit of powerful nations had been “very productive and concrete,” adding that world leaders had agreed a food security programme worth 20 billion dollars.

In addition to the Middle East peace process, the two also discussed the global financial crisis, food security and development in Africa and Latin America, the Vatican statement said as Obama headed for the west African nation of Ghana.

Both men emerged all smiles from the private audience in the pontiff’s personal libary.

First Lady Michelle Obama, wearing a black mantilla over a black dress, joined the party for the traditional exchange of gifts.

Benedict also offered the US leader a mosaic depicting St Peter’s Square with one of its fountains in the foreground.

“It’s beautiful,” said Obama. “We’ll find a place of honour for that.”

The US president offered the pope a stole that had covered the remains of St John Neuman, a 19th-century missionary who was the first American bishop to be canonised.

Obama introduced his daughters Sasha and Malia, as well as his mother-in-law Marian Robinson, to the pope, the Vatican press office said.

As the presidential couple took their leave, the pope said: “I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray for your work.”


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