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Are Pro-Lifers Allowed To Be Conscientious?

July 25, 2014 Frontpage No Comments


An interesting case has developed in Poland surrounding a doctor who refused to abort a deformed baby who had been conceived in vitro at a fertility clinic. Professor Bogdan Chazan, director of the Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, and one of the country’s leading medical doctors, invoked Poland’s conscience clause to justify the legality of refusing to perform the abortion. Nonetheless, Dr. Chazan was accused of using the conscience clause improperly since he also refused to arrange for an abortion with another physician. For this refusal, his hospital was fined approximately $23,000, money that would have gone to provide additional care for hospital patients.
The fine, as well as the accusation, however, appears to be wholly unjustified. The conscience clause, which exempts a doctor from performing an abortion against his will, also extends to his conscientious right to refuse to refer to a doctor who would perform the abortion. Dr. Chazan appears to be well within his constitutional rights. The issue appears to be purely ideological rather than legal, moral, or medical. Instead of aborting the woman’s child, he provided them with extensive care, both prior to and after the delivery. Pro-abortionists who demand freedom of conscience to abort often find it difficult to extend that same freedom to conscientious doctors who refuse to perform abortions. They seem to prioritize death over life, a situation that exemplifies Evangelium Vitae’s repeated references to a Culture of Death.
This case is all the more interesting because Dr. Chazan has a very good record. His hospital’s perinatal mortality rate, for example, is twice as low as the national average. It is said that pregnant women want to give birth at Holy Family Hospital. Moreover, he is known as a champion of women’s health, heavily involved in the Polish branch of MaterCare International that aids women and children in Kenya, Haiti, and Ghana.
In time, Dr. Chazan may be fully vindicated, but the case against him illustrates the intemperance of his accusers, especially feminists who are really fighting against their own best interest. What is the point, other than ideological, in persecuting a good doctor who is also a humanitarian?
Reviewing the Catholic position on conscience, we find two essential principles: 1) A person is always obliged to follow a judgment of conscience when it is formed in good faith; 2) The state is guilty of injustice when it interferes with a person’s freedom to follow his conscience in matters of religious choice (see Eric D’Arcy’s fine study, Conscience and Its Right to Freedom, 1961). The latter principle is consistent with the First Amendment provision in the U.S. Constitution which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Church holds that just as a person of good conscience should not be compelled to perform an abortion, the same principle applies to compelling people to be Christian. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Injustice should be done to no man. Now it would be an injustice to Jews if their children were to be baptized against their will….Therefore, these should not be baptized against their parents’ will” (ST II-II, Q. 10, a. 12).
In Pope Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis Christi, we read the following: “In the case of people who are not Catholics, the Church applies the principle taken from the Code of Canon Law, no one shall be forced to embrace the Catholic Faith against his will. She considers that their convictions are a reason, although not always the principal reason, for tolerance.”
If the secular world, that has such high praise for tolerance, should live up to its own professed ideal, it should look to no other place than the Catholic Church for its model. The Church, often unjustly accused of being intolerant, has provided an unparalleled blueprint for that quality.

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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)

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