Prevailing attitudes toward abortion within the medical community show the need to safeguard conscience rights while working to protect life, said Princeton law professor Robert P. George.

"Today, many of those who would sanction and support the taking of human life by abortion or in embryo-destructive research have also made themselves the enemies of conscience," said George in a Jan. 20 talk at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  

"We, who are the friends of life, must also be the friends of conscience."

George, who is the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, delivered the keynote address at the 2014 Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life, the largest student-run pro-life conference in the country.  

In addition to currently serving as the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, George previously served on the President's Council on Bioethics. He has written numerous books and articles on a variety of topics, including the defense of conscience, life and marriage.

Pointing to testimony given by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, George explained that abortion supporters defend their position by discussing abortion "as if it were a matter of health care, rather than what it typically is, namely, a decision based upon non-medical considerations."

The testimony presented by the medical organization illustrates a definition of "medicine," he continued, that is "not about the preservation and restoration of health" in a concrete manner, but instead centers on "satisfying the personal preferences or lifestyle desires of people," whether or not the surgeries and procedures they request "are in any meaningful sense medically indicated."

Abortion, he said, is not a question of  "'reproductive health' or health of any kind, precisely because direct abortions are not procedures designed to make sick people healthy or to protect them against disease."

In the case of elective abortion, George observed, a woman is not sick. "Pregnancy is not a disease. It is a natural process."

The push to label direct abortion as health care, he said, is not about medicine, but about ideology. "It is about politics and political power."

Questions about the personhood of the unborn human and the morality of abortion can only be solved with the help of philosophic reflection and debate, the scholar stated. Calling abortion 'health care' as a matter of medicinal fact, is therefore "rhetorical manipulation" because it encompasses "a philosophical, ethical, and political opinion."

"It is a judgment brought to medicine, not a judgment derived from it."

George commented that it is misleading and dishonest to discuss elective abortion, in vitro fertilization and other procedures that "facilitate people's lifestyle choices" as if they were an essential part of medicine..

Efforts to do so represent "a sheer power play on behalf of pro-abortion individuals" in the medical profession, he added.

The report from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology depicts the medical profession going to great lengths to impose its "partisan position," George said, and this shows "who in the debate is guilty of intolerance."

Asserting that women have the "right" to demand that doctors kill their developing unborn babies, the report suggests limiting the right of doctors and other medical professionals to decline to perform of refer for abortions.

Ironically, George observed, "those responsible for the report and its recommendations evidently would use coercion" to force doctors and pharmacists to carry out procedures that violate their conscience.

On the other hand, he noted, a physician who refuses to participate in an abortion "is not 'imposing' anything on anyone."

Ongoing attempts to coercively impose an accepting view of abortion on all doctors now threaten the consciences of pro-life physicians – and their ability to continue practicing, George said.

If the recommendations of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology were to be followed, he said, "their field of medical practice would be cleansed of pro-life physicians whose convictions required them to refrain from performing or referring for abortions."

This means that faithful Catholic, Evangelical and other Protestant doctors, as well as many observant Jews and Muslims, would be forced out of medicine, he explained.

"The entire field would be composed of people who could be relied on either to agree with, or at a minimum go along with, the moral and political convictions of the report's authors," he said.

In light of these trends, George called pro-life supporters to "be conscience's best friends."

He asked the students to resist definitions of abortion as healthcare, "not only for the sake of defending the lives of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – children in the womb – but also in defense of what James Madison called 'the sacred rights of conscience'."
"For many of us, standing up for conscience means defending the principles of our faith," George said. "For all of us, standing up for conscience means defending principles on which our nation was founded."