The subject of our conference last Friday becomes more relevant with each passing day. A report is currently before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) calling on member-states of the Council to ‘regulate’ conscientious objection so as to ensure that women seeking procedures such as abortion are not denied their ‘right’ as a result of someone’s moral objection to same.
The report says that the right of conscientious objection does not apply to institutions such as hospitals, immediately giving rise to the question, does this mean that Catholic hospitals would have to perform abortions?
It says that health-care providers like doctors and nurses can refuse to perform an abortion, but only if they refer the woman to someone who will perform the abortion. According to Catholic moral theology, such a referral would amount to ‘formal cooperation with evil’. A Catholic doctor or nurse would morally be obliged not to make such a referral, but if this report has its way, such a doctor or nurse would be breaking the law.
Worse yet, the report says that in cases of ‘emergency’ the doctor or nurse must perform the procedure despite their strong moral objections.
In an almost Orwellian touch the report also recommends that member-states create a ‘registry’ of conscientious objectors.
Could there be a more perfect illustration of what our conference of last Friday was discussing?
In fairness to the author of this report, UK Labour MP, Catherine McCafferty, she probably thinks she is providing for a reasonable accommodation of conscience rights in that only in ‘emergencies’ will health-care providers be forced to perform procedures they find morally repugnant.
In other cases, their conscience rights will be respected, even if only to a point since they would be obliged to refer a patient to someone who doesn’t share their objections.
A still more radical version of Catherine McCafferty might insist that the right to an abortion is absolute, and that all health-care providers who are suitably qualified have a duty to perform an abortion when asked so that no woman is denied her ‘heath-care right’.
In fact, this kind of absolutist position was adopted by the Government with regard to the Civil Partnership Act. It made no allowance whatsoever for conscientious objection. As mentioned, McCafferty at least allows that a doctor doesn’t have to perform an abortion if there is another doctor available to do it instead.
However, under the Civil Partnership Act a civil registrar must officiate at a same-sex civil union ceremony even if a colleague could do it instead. A parish must rent out its hall if a same-sex couple wish to hold their reception there even if there is a civic hall just down the road. A self-employed photographer or printer must photograph the ceremony or print the invites even if there are 100 other photographers or printers who would happily do the job instead.
As the Department of Justice told members of the public, “No-one can be exempt from their obligation not to discriminate”.
This kind of thinking is extremely dangerous. It makes no attempt at the kind of ‘reasonable accomodation’ that Professor Roger Trigg spoke about at our conference.
It absolutises a particular view of equality and forces Christians and other religious believers into the position of being non-conformists vis-a-vis the law. Their moral position is treated, in the words of Environment Minister John Gormley, as “an old and discredited prejudice”. In other words, it is treated with contempt. The State ends up imposing a particular form of morality that equates traditional sexual morality with racism.
Of course, forcing someone to facilitate a same-sex civil union is not the same as forcing someone to perform an abortion, or to facilitate one. Nonetheless, it does represent a new strain in Irish law based on an absolutist notion of a particular definition of equality. (Mind you, a feminist will argue that refusing a woman an abortion is worse than refusing to facilitate a civil union ceremony because of the ‘threat to her mental or physical health’ allegedly caused by an unwanted pregnancy).
In any event, the new morality is leading us down increasingly dangerous paths, because as the State gets it into its head that various contentious values are, in fact, absolute, non-negotiable ‘human rights’, which Christians don’t see as human rights at all, Christians are increasingly going to find themselves on the wrong side of the law.