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Panel examines conscience clauses

Scott Englert | Friday, December 4, 2009

Notre Dame, especially in light of lasts May’s Commencement address by President Barack Obama and the pro-life rallying that came with it, has delved into the political debate on conscience clauses and continues to examine the issue of abortion through intellectual dialogue. On Thursday, a panel of University professors addressed the position of the Catholic Church on the topic.

“We do not regard the intentional killing of human beings as health care,” Orlando Carter Snead, associate professor of law at Notre Dame, said.

Snead, along with Margaret F. Brinig, professor of law and associate dean at the Law School and Fr. Michael Place, chair of the International Federation of Catholic Health Institutions, spoke Thursday at the McCartan Courtroom in the Eck Hall of Law as part of a panel discussion titled “What Would a Good Conscience Clause Look Like? A Catholic University’s Perspective.” The panel was hosted by the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life and the Notre Dame Law School.

Brinig initiated the discussion by focusing on the personal perspective of the woman.

In her extensive research, Brinig found that the most common denominator in abortion cases is a lack of support for the mother.

Brinig believes, therefore, that certain steps that must be taken to assist pregnant women.

“Preventive conscience clauses … also need to be our concern,” Brinig said.  Support, she said, can be offered “through prayer, service and sometimes financial help.” 

Place followed Brinig and discussed the Catholic view of moral order.

“There is an objective moral order … an affirmative response to do good and avoid evil,” Place said.

He explained how this view is upheld traditionally in the Constitution.

“There are certain inalienable rights [for all human life,]” Place said.

Place also discussed the role of religion in society, citing the post-Vatican II stance on the state-religion interaction.

“Government ought to provide space for the free exercise of religion and the personal conscience of society,” Place said.

There are, he said, three principle ways religion influences a state: forming of conscience, advancement of society through institutional works and a shared moral vision.

Some people today, however, advocate for a greater separation between religion and government. And yet, Place said, even without religion, abortion is still wrong.

“It is not a religious obligation first, but it is a human obligation,” Place said. “Without life there is no society.”

In addition, Place warned of those who use language as a tool, citing the examples of classifying patients as consumers and abortion as a basic health right.

Snead concluded the panel and reiterated the two foundational premises of the pro-life argument: that all human beings are created equal and that life begins at the moment of conception.

Snead described how, under the new administration, government policy toward living embryonic stem cells has shifted from a policy of “neutrality to destruction.” 

He said he is glad to be part of an institution that shares his view on the dignity of human life.

“It is my position that public funding should not be used to provide or subsidize abortion funding directly or indirectly,” Snead said.