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A Different Voice

Any law on abortion is illegitimate and coercion is to be resisted

Any law on abortion is illegitimate and coercion is to be resisted

Lex iniusta non est lex. The dictum that originated in the writings of St. Augustine (354-430) and was further explained by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), gives an intellectual frame and weight to the recent June 9th emergency meeting of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) in Portlaoise, which rightfully assembled to make this ancient truth crystal clear. No doctor in Ireland can be coerced to murder the child in the womb, nor can they be coerced to refer patients to have their baby killed by others. No forced collaboration in such acts can ever be justified by reason in a free, just, and democratic society.

The NAGP, a group representing 2,000 GP’s, echoes the voice of any true practitioner of the art and science of medicine. No legitimate government can pretend to force one of the most trusted professions through human history, to turn their skill to the murder of innocent human beings. It goes without saying that the murder of the child in the womb is not part of any doctor’s or medical personnel’s job description.

But of course, this holds true for any institution as well. That a politician like Leo Varadkar announces that he will use the power of the state to coerce hospitals to kill, needs to be opposed by all interested in the preservation of a free society and the democratic order.

Tuesday, Varadkar brazenly stated, “It will not, however, be possible for publicly funded hospitals, no matter who their patron or owner is, to opt out of providing these necessary services which will be legal in this state once this legislation is passed by the Dáil and Seanad,” he added.

“I’m happy to give you that assurance.”

Mr Varadkar added: “That legislation will allow individuals to opt out based on their consciences or their religious convictions but will not allow institutions to do so.

“So just as is the case now in the legislation for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, hospitals like for example Holles Street, which is a Catholic voluntary ethos hospital, the Mater, St Vincent’s and others will be required and will be expected to carry out any procedure that is legal in this state and that is the model we will follow.”

Varadkar believes that his lethal dictates are law but Lex iniusta non est lex, (An unjust law is no law at all). It is this that constitutes the intellectual foundation of the doctors’ protest against likely attempts by state forces to coerce them or their institutions to shed innocent blood. The resistance to illegitimate orders to kill is necessarily based on this understanding.

This because the abortion law that the Oireachtas wishes to pass is not a true law, as no one can legalize murder. It will remain, if passed, as the iconic example of the corruption of the law, a pseudo-law, and it, therefore, creates no demands on anyone’s conscience to observe or support it. In fact, it creates a positive obligation to find ways to oppose, resist, and dissent in every way possible.

Three great moments in history crystalized, we thought, in the 20th century; the notion that any government, court or indeed a national referendum can never legalize injustice and criminality. Wisdom is of ancient origin but it perennially makes itself present to unmask the lies and injustices of our present time.

The triad of examples started off with the Mahatma Gandhi in 1915. His peaceful civil disobedience against British rule in India became a movement that in time would bring about India’s independence. He summed up his resistance by stating, “An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.”

The second event took place in Western Europe in the aftermath of the unthinkable events of WWII. The reckoning of justice came full force during the Nuremberg trials (Nov.20, 1945-Oct 1, 1946), which established in an international legal framework, the ancient principle that “an unjust law is no law at all.” The “never forget” of Nuremberg was made visible in what became known as the Nuremberg Principles.

Principle II is illustrative of what the doctors of the NAGP were affirming. “The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty from an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.”

“Never forget” that internal law is irrelevant as a justification for injustice and criminality. Whatever the Oireachtas may pretend to allow regarding the killing of the child in the womb does not in any way constitute law in any legitimate sense. It is instead a clear measure of the de-legitimization of the current Irish government.

These names, Varadkar, Zappone, Noone, Harris, and the rest will live in infamy in the due course of history. Justice will catch up with them soon enough. No government can coerce doctors or anyone else to commit murder. All orders in this regard, as Nuremberg affirmed, must be regarded as illegitimate. Principle IV at Nuremberg makes the point clearly, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility…”

Principle IV is supported not only by the Declaration of Human Rights but even more interestingly by the procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Essentially, it vindicates the objection of conscience of the military to not participate in actions “ with which an individual does not wish to be associated, is condemned by the international community as contrary to the basic rules of human conduct…” The individual refusing to comply could not, therefore, be treated as a deserter. On the contrary, any punishment in this regard would be “… regarded as persecution.”

I submit that any attempt to punish a doctor for refusing to kill an innocent human being should be regarded as precisely that:  persecution.

The largest representative association of GP’s in Ireland is seeking in part to vindicate in practice, what history has taught through the great trials and tribulations of confronting unjust laws. Although they did not point out the obvious, namely that lex iniusta non est lex, necessarily their protest depends on it. Here is what they said:

1)   “The NAGP calls on the Minister for Health to clarify that he does not intend, through legislation, to make a termination of pregnancy service part of routine General Practice.”

2)   “Motion that the NAGP should advocate for conscientious objection without obligation to refer.” (A refusal to refer patients for abortions).

They also asked for an opt-in option for those “doctors” who would turn abortionist. This should be a requirement by law:  A public registrar that would name the abortionists in Ireland. Every patient has a right to know if they are dealing with a doctor or a person with medical skill who is paid to kill children. Most mothers would not want someone who spent the morning killing children to deal with her child, therefore her patient rights require that every parent know who these individuals are. Would you want a man who is killing children to touch your child?

The third historical event where the ancient wisdom would again shine brightly was in the struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr. against discrimination and racial segregation. He penned a letter on April 16, 1963, a magnificent vindication of freedom and justice, as he sat in a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama. The Letter from a Birmingham Jail was interestingly enough addressed to, “My Dear Fellow Clergymen.” Undoubtedly, the fight against segregation found a cold reception among much of the clergy in his own time. He was well aware that even men of the cloth were preaching conformism and ignoring the gravity of the injustices being perpetrated.

This temptation will soon seek to lull the Irish clergy into the comfort of acceptance and conformity. King felt that the real threat to justice was not so much the radical who lives injustice as his creed but rather the moderate who “… prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

His words should ring in the souls of every person left in Ireland willing to fight against injustice. “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

Undoubtedly, many will convince themselves that following corrupt laws is a duty, “a superior’s order,” and the rest. To this Martin Luther King artfully replied in his letter, “One may well ask:  ‘how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws; conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

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