Fr Vincent Twomey: ‘Doctors of conscience must exercise civil disobedience if told to carry out abortions’

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Fr Vincent Twomey: ‘Doctors of conscience must exercise civil disobedience if told to carry out abortions’


Result: Pro-choice voters celebrate the result of the referendum on abortion in Dublin last May. Photo: REUTERS
Result: Pro-choice voters celebrate the result of the referendum on abortion in Dublin last May. Photo: REUTERS

Conscience as a subject has been rumbling in the background to the various major controversies over the past decade or more. The proposed legislation on abortion has brought it to the foreground, albeit under the guise of the somewhat misleading term “conscientious objection”, a term that originated in the refusal of Quakers to engage in military operations on religious grounds.

The term is misleading, since conscience, when we listen to it, prompts us as to how we should act – what is right or wrong – and not just what we object to doing because of subjective convictions, religious, ideological or otherwise.

Conscience itself has become a somewhat ambiguous term. Both sides in the last referendum justified their option by appealing to their conscience, as though conscience could be equated with one’s subjective preference: Yes or No. This reflects the dominant cultural assumption that denies the reality of any such thing as objective right or wrong. Despite this cultural assumption, the legal parameters of society are predicated on an older and more profound assumption, namely the recognition that certain actions are always objectively wrong, such as rape, adultery, theft, perjury or paedophilia.

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