Day two of the SPUC conference saw Dr Jakob Cornides, a lawyer and human rights expert, delivering a scholarly talk on the question of whether conscientious Objection is a right or a duty. He looked at the areas of the law where conscientious objection is sometimes permitted, namely matters of religion, involvement in the armed forces and participation in abortion.
He looked at the potential conflict between freedom of conscience and the duty to obey national laws, stating that it would not be possible or desirable for citizens to exercise complete freedom over which laws they chose to obey, for obvious reasons, but that just laws, rooted in natural law should not place a citizen in a situation where his own conscience would conflict with the law. The fact that the abortion lobby attacks the right to conscientious objection (ironically in the name of choice) is less motivated by a fear that abortion will not be so readily available if physicians can choose not to perform them, but because conscientious objection clauses draw attention to the inherently unjust nature of legal abortion - a just law does not need such provisions.
Cornides made the point that conscience is not just a matter of a person doing what he wants, conscience must be formed and (quoting C.S. Lewis) he suggested that what separated sincere obedience to conscience from sanctimonious self-justification was a person being prepared to accept the dire consequences of that decision, including loss of career and imprisonment.
The abortion lobby places the right to an abortion above the right of doctors and nurses to refuse to commit an act of killing, but in the end the fundamental point regarding abortion and human rights is that an action that deliberately ends the life of an innocent human being cannot be anyone's right since it constitutes the most serious breach of human rights possible.
I previously posted on Dr Cornides' paper Human Rights Pitted Against Man which was published in the International Journal of Human Rights.