As I’m about to launch into the abortion “debate” (“melee” is more like it) at this late date in my life and career, I can only conclude I’ve learned nothing about keeping my mouth shut when it’s prudent to do so.

Still, I’m inspired by Barack Obama … once again. The U.S. president, who has become something of a poster boy for common sense, showed his chops again recently, accepting an invitation to address the graduating class at Notre Dame — a Catholic university and a hotbed of anti-abortion sentiment.

What he said made a lot of sense, whatever side you’re on. “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion,” he said. “But we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually. It has both a moral and a spiritual dimension.”

He went on: “When we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think or believe what we do — that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.”

Wise words. Compassionate words. Civilized words. But many of his audience had crosses or little infants’ feet painted on their mortarboards. Three dozen protesters were carted away for trying to disrupt the U.S. president’s speech. They weren’t interested in common ground.

And then, this past Sunday, two weeks after Obama’s address, some guy in Kansas shot a doctor who performed abortions to death while he was serving as an usher at his church.

Meanwhile, up here, the archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, resigned from the Order of Canada because Henry Morgentaler, our most famous/notorious doctor who performed abortions, was also honoured. Clearly, resigning in a huff is not as extreme as murder, but neither is an invitation to seek common ground.

What’s interesting about so many of these guys is that they are guys. Perhaps feeling left out because they can’t get pregnant, they indulge in righteous rage. Convinced that every sperm is sacred, that even the most rudimentary stages in the development of the human fetus must be protected, they’re not about to pause and allow reason to inform the discussion even if it leads to the final absurdity: Take life to save life.

Frankly, I don’t like abortion. But I don’t like the alternative, which is unwanted pregnancy, or backstreet butchery. And it seems obvious: Stem cell research is moral light years away from late-term abortion. The issue is complex and vexing, and I applaud Obama’s attempt to find common ground. But in abortion, we have an issue that exposes civilization as a thin crust spread lightly over a seething mass of molten mayhem.

Wise words, I fear, are not enough.