Liberalism, Conscientious Objection, and Continued Ireland/Abortion Discussion

This segment of my reaction to the Irish abortion referendum (hopefully the final one) involves a recent statement from the Taoiseach, himself, Leo Varadkar, which overtly disbands consistency and balance from his ethical formula.

The Irish Telegraph reports, “The Taoiseach has said doctors who refuse to refer women to medics providing abortions will not be tolerated once the service is rolled-out. Leo Varadkar said he would not allow doctors to put across a message of “you are on your own love” to women and they will be required to refer on to those providing the service.”

This was reportedly said as a motion was put forth from the National Association of General Practitioners to install an “opt-in” program for abortion services, where medical practitioners (MP) may opt in to give abortion services, allowing abortion-seekers to approach physicians foreknowing their particular stance. This would give an adequate counter-measure to pro-life physicians being forced to refer patients to other willing MP’s. It would allow for free, unpunished conscientious objection.

Varadkar’s words are a total reaffirmation of what’s spelled out in the proposed bill legislating abortion service (see Article 15.(3)). (The bill is still to be passed.)

I’m nauseated by the reality, concerning bioethical issues, that modern hardline liberalism doesn’t seem to have room for conscientious objection.

Now, granted, Mr. Varadkar has more recently expressed approval for such an opt-in system. But his approval is unbecomingly accompanied with an iteration of that same nonsense, as he’s quoted in the Telegraph as saying, “No [General Practitioner (GP)] will be required to provide the service so we are very happy to accept the principle that it will be opt-in and indeed the legislation will provide for GPs to have a conscientious objection. But what we can’t allow is this suggestion that a GP who does not provide the service will then refuse to refer their patient on to somebody who would. Because essentially that is the equivalent of ‘you are on your own love’ and we are not going to have that in Ireland any more.”

So, what’s the issue here?

“… what we can’t allow is this suggestion that a GP who does not provide the service will then refuse to refer their patient on to somebody who would.”

For starters, you cannot have both choice and coercion fit into a truly liberal philosophy, which is precisely why Trudeau’s (and Varadkar’s) version of Liberal government is laced with hypocrisy. They seek heightened permissiveness towards the individual’s self-defined identifications and subjectivized morality while policing corporate thought and activity. The consequence is a glaring contradiction, a double standard, that handcuffs people without warrant.

I tweeted it out today but I’ll repeat it here for my non-tweeting audience:

If one cannot see the contradiction between saying “Stop forcing your values into our law!” or “Keep your rosaries off our ovaries!” and “All physicians must by law cooperate or be complicit in the service of abortion.” then you haven’t thought hard enough.

The first sayings demand an impossible divorce of moral values from enacted law. Really, it’s just saying that some values are intolerable (interestingly enough). They demand permissiveness of an act which carries moral consequences such that law should grant accessibility. They demand the silence of one ethic beneath the loud cackle of an angry worldview, a movement of women that just wants the opportunity to throw away the children they’d rather not have (see Hadley Freeman). Or, to cast off the burden they can’t handle right now. Or, to remove the threat they don’t how to avoid otherwise.

But many of these same people, including Varadkar, including Trudeau, simply have a hard time grasping the concept of equal freedom of expression of religious and moral conviction in both the public square and in the field of medicine. It all comes down whether we can allow those who disagree to act in accordance with their most deeply held convictions. Especially, if we are to take seriously the pro-choice argument: People just want the opportunity to do what’s best for themselves–if you disagree, that’s fine, but don’t force your views on others. To force the pro-life MD to hand the vacuum curette to another doctor is to force that pro-life MD to be complicit in an act of killing (which they sincerely believe to be immoral). This is the imperious foisting of ethical values onto a professional with a duty to protect and care for those he can. This is liberal self-defeat. This is coercion.

For the fun of it, let’s try to draw some analogies. Let’s say there’s an engineer, or a team of engineers, tasked with designing a bridge. Let’s say, after a year or so of work, they tighten their specs and tolerances, they finalize materials and style, and they pass on the drawings to a Chief Engineer (CE) for final approval before construction. The CE sees the drawings and feels that they are not adequate. He feels there are true design flaws that, if built on, will endanger the public. Should we obligate the CE to blindly give his stamp of acceptance, without revision to the design solution? Certainly not! Should we obligate the CE to pass on the flawed design to another for an immediate approval if he/she won’t give his/her own go-ahead, based on his/her estimation of the validity of the design? Certainly not!

Now, obviously, there’s flaws in this analogy. The point is (a) you can’t just have people accept and act on things contrary to their beliefs, or cooperate indirectly, when it’s literally a matter of life and death, (b) we’re robbing the professional of their ability to do their work when we introduce a foreign ethical calculus to his or her operation, (c) we’re immediately alienating the conscience from the highly ethical, risk-laden task at hand which prioritizes (or ought to prioritize), above all else, the well-being of the public, which is absolutely ridiculous, and (d) all edifices stand or fall on their foundation.

What Varadkar demands, to not, as he says, put out a sign that says “you’re on your own love”, is functionally to deny the physician his or her sworn duty to exercise judgment in his or her calculation of appropriate care, which, ironically, is what is demanded by the proposed abortion bill itself.

Which raises another problem.

The bill is quite subjective. It requires that beyond the 12-week threshold, all decisions for abortion must be according to the MP’s judgment concerning the appropriateness of abortion as a course of action (there’s no definition of appropriateness, no constraints, no definition of risk to the mother, and no rubric for making the judgment). If the Taoiseach’s words were to apply to all scenarios where a woman was seeking an abortion, wouldn’t this sort of nullify this requirement? I suppose that’s where I’m lost in all of this. What’s the point of requiring a doctor to, in good faith and medical judgment, deem abortion appropriate or not, if the unwilling doctor must then refer the woman to another MP?

When making medical decisions, there must be a premise, there must be a basis and a logic to follow. The pro-life stance is not without basis or logic. All human beings ought to be protected and treated with dignity. Varadkar and Trudeau would both do well to come to grips with the fact that doctors endorse and utilize that same logic to protect, nourish, and save lives every day.

You can tell us to keep our values out of law and public practice, but you can’t thrust yours onto it either. At least, not if consistency has any currency.



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