Obama says abortion rights law not a top priority

WASHINGTON, April 29 Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:46am BST

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he favored abortion rights for women but that passing a law guaranteeing those rights was not his top priority, trying to avoid inflaming divisions over the issue.

"I believe that women should have the right to choose," Obama told a news conference marking his first 100 days in office. "But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on."

Noting that the number of U.S. teen pregnancies had begun to spike upward after a decline, Obama said he had started a task force within his Domestic Policy Council that is working with groups both supporting abortion rights and opposing abortion to seek a consensus on how to deal with the issue.

"I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies," Obama said.

As a candidate, Obama supported the Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion.

His stance on the issue, as well as his decision to lift many restrictions on stem cell research, angered groups opposed to abortion, including many Catholic and other Christian religious groups.

Asked about the Freedom of Choice Act at Wednesday's news conference, Obama said it "is not the highest legislative priority."

"My view on ... abortion, I think, has been very consistent," Obama said. "I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue."

"There are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations," he said. "I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with."

Obama's stance on abortion has touched off a controversy over his invitation to speak at commencement ceremonies at Notre Dame University next month.

Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said earlier this week she would not accept a top honor at Notre Dame's commencement ceremony because of the Roman Catholic university's decision to invite Obama.

Several bishops also have criticized the university for the decision. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)