In honor of St. Anselm’s feast day, here is a little essay about faith, reason, and human rights…
No one can in good conscience participate in the killing of an innocent person. This is a universal ethical principle.
On the other hand, doctors, nurses, pharmacists—all health-care professionals—act according to conscience. These are noble, admirable professions. A ruthless doctor, a killer nurse—these are contradictions in terms, absurdities. A ruthless doctor is no doctor; a killer nurse is no nurse.
The Conscience Clause, as I understand it, is intended to protect the right of all health-care workers to decline to participate in unethical procedures like abortion.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am in favor of the Conscience Clause. I am against the President revoking it. As a practical provision, the Conscience Clause protects good Catholic doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc.
Nonetheless, I think that the argument offered in support of the Conscience Clause is wrong.
The argument runs like this: In America, we have the right to practice religion freely. If my church teaches that abortion is wrong and participating in it is immoral, then no one can compel me to do it. If they try, they are attacking my religious freedom.
This is not a correct argument in this case. Here’s why:
We come to know truth in two ways. One way is by divine Revelation. For example, we know that God loves us, because He sent His Son to die for us. This is a “religious truth,” held by faith.
The second way we come to know things is by observation and reflection. For instance, we observe by experience that toast is digestible, whereas G.I. Joe action-figures are not. I can make a clear argument to anyone about this. Someone might try to convince me that G.I. Joes actually taste good—but no one is going to compel me to eat one, unless he does so by force.
No human law can bind anyone to believe or disbelieve religious truths. Faith is a gift from God. On the other hand, our civil laws come from observation, reflection, and reasoned argument about the common good of our people.
Abortion is wrong, and no one can in good conscience participate in it. I tried to explain this in full last fall. (Click here and here to read my earlier essays.) That abortion is wrong is NOT a “religious issue.” It is NOT a matter of faith. It is a matter of human rights and medical ethics.
The disputed point is not that killing is wrong. All people of conscience agree that killing is wrong, harming the innocent is wrong. The disputed point is: When does human life begin? When do human rights take effect?
The reasonable answer to this question is: Since we have no evidence whatsoever of human life beginning at any time other than at the moment of conception, we have to presume that it begins at conception. What we can say with certainty is: No one can take any chances when it comes to killing innocent people. A decent society has laws to protect innocent people from potential life-threatening danger.
Our society is less than decent NOT because there is a threat to our religious rights as Catholics. Our society is less than decent because the innocent unborn are not protected by law.
To argue that Catholics have a “right” not to participate in abortions is true enough, but it actually misses the point. The fact is that every decent person has a duty never to participate in an abortion. The rights at stake are not the doctor’s, nurse’s, or any health-care professional’s. The rights at stake are the rights of the unborn child.