British Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly responding to outspoken Catholic priests warning that Catholic politicians that support abortion rights are in violation of church teaching and undermine their relationship with the church body says the following:
"We have freedom of conscience issues for extremely good reasons in this country. Issues like abortion and so forth are ones that people have deep personal convictions on," Ms Kelly said.
"Church leaders will always say what they think - that's their prerogative. Politicians have to make up their own minds based on their individual conscience. And that's the way it should be," she added.
My understanding of conscience is that it is consciousness of a moral obligation or standard of goodness and the conviction to act upon that awareness. I think she means that everyone must determine whether they intuit a moral element to abortion either way and act accordingly. You should notice that her list of such issues is a rather short, “abortion and so forth.” One is left imagine what other issues she equates with abortion.
There is a problem with this line of thinking. The standard of conscience that the pro-life position appeals to is largely accepted by most civilized cultures. I think that Secretary Kelly would embrace the belief that killing innocent human beings for elective reasons is immoral. The British government and politicians do not need to examine their conscience to determine whether ending innocent human life when it is not necessary is wrong. The objection then may be that whether or not the unborn are innocent human beings is the question of conscience. That is wrong. The nature of unborn human life is a question of identification not conscience.
There are two incontrovertible facts about abortion:
1 – The unborn are living “somethings.”
2 – Abortion terminates the life of the unborn.
Neither of these points is arguable. The unborn are alive and they are in fact an actual entity of some sort and the abortion procedure kills them. The obvious question from those two facts is “What are the unborn, then?” Whether or not truth (2) is moral or immoral is not determined by how I feel about the unborn but how we identify them. The morality that I will apprehend and respond to is set. Does it apply to the unborn? To answer that question we have to determine what they are.
What they are is not affected by what I think about them, though. The unborn are actually and objectively something. Pro-lifers assert that the unborn are whole, distinct, living human beings and offer philosophical and scientific arguments to support that claim. This description either accurately describes the nature of the unborn or it does not, but that question is one of intellectual argument not conscience.