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Changing Unjust Laws Justly

Pro-Life Solidarity with "The Last and Least"

Colin Harte

Publication Year: 2012

Changing Unjust Laws Justly is the first book to address systematically the practical, legal, and ethical problems that are encountered in well-intentioned attempts to restrict abortion. It will be of considerable interest not only to political, legal, and moral philosophers, but also to lawmakers and the pro-life movement generally.

Published by: The Catholic University of America Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiv

The issue at the heart of this book has troubled me for some fifteen years. It should have troubled me for a year or two longer, but I was reluctant at first to let it trouble me. I can understand why readers committed to a policy of supporting restrictive abortion legislation, as part of a strategy intended to lead...

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pp. xv-19

As acknowledged in the Preface, I am indebted above all to Alison Davis. A mere expression of thanks does not do justice to her contribution to this book. Several scholars, some of whom have expressed considerable disagreement with my line of thought, have helped me to develop the argument of this book by their comments on early drafts of different parts of the text. Particular...

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pp. 1-12

Some things are obvious. In an emergency situation like that of a burning building or a sinking ship, where lives are in jeopardy, the automatic response is to try to save lives. The value attached to human life is such that rescuers may even place their own lives at risk in order to save others. And nobody would suggest...


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pp. 13-33

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1. A Denial of Solidarity

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pp. 15-56

Whether or not it is justified for pro-life legislators to vote for restrictive abortion legislation in a situation where there is no chance of a fully prohibitive law being enacted is ultimately resolved only by a thorough analysis of the various jurisprudential, legislative, and ethical dimensions of the question. These dimensions will be the focus of subsequent chapters. This chapter......


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pp. 57-77

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2. Jurisprudential Options Revisited

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pp. 59-89

In Western societies abortion was generally regarded as a criminal offense until the 1960s if not later, so the question of how to respond to abortion laws is still a fairly new one. In this chapter I challenge some ideas that have been widely accepted in pro-life circles since the 1960s and 1970s, with a view to establishing...

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3. The Problem of Intrinsically Unjust Laws

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pp. 90-118

As Chapter 1 recounted, the British pro-life movement’s most concerted attempt to change the abortion law was made between 1987 and 1990, beginning with its support for the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, introduced by David Alton, MP, to reduce the upper limit for abortions to 18 weeks. The anticipated life-saving consequence (or effect) of the bill’s enactment was sufficient...


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pp. 119-139

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4. Good Acts by Bad Acts?

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pp. 121-158

Even though all laws tolerating or permitting abortion can be identified as intrinsically unjust, as the two previous chapters have shown, and even though a negative judgment has been traditionally made against such laws, is it possible to argue that it can be ethically good (a good act) to vote for an intrinsically unjust law (a bad Act) if one is doing so for the purpose of...

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5. A “Special Case” Consideration

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pp. 159-185

In the previous chapter I argued that the identification of a law as intrinsically unjust is sufficient to judge that the act of voting for it is intrinsically unjust and never an ethically good choice. When discussing this point I have encountered the claim that the acceptance of this argument does not end discussion on the question of voting for intrinsically unjust restrictive...

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6. Avoiding Ethical Inconsistencies

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pp. 186-212

A judgment as to the moral goodness of voting for restrictive legislation requires the sort of analysis given in Chapter 4. A faulty analysis, or a failure to undertake such an analysis, may lead to the adoption of some unsatisfactory arguments in favor of restrictive abortion legislation. In this chapter I shall address arguments referring to the lesser evil, “the principle of totality,”...


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pp. 213-233

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7. Identifying Just and Unjust Proposals

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pp. 215-254

I have argued that laws tolerating, permitting, or obligating abortion are intrinsically unjust, and that it is an intrinsically unjust (evil) act to vote to enact an intrinsically unjust law: a good intention of saving the lives of some unborn children does not affect the intrinsic unjustness of the legislative act of voting to enact an intrinsically unjust Act. In a situation where all abortions...

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8. Voting Opportunities

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pp. 255-286

Legislative voting involves more than voting at the final stage for a bill to be enacted as law. Legislators are faced with complex considerations, not only with respect to the justness of of a bill when it is presented for enactment but also with respect to the appropriateness of supporting a bill in its entirety at an early stage of its passage, or of supporting particular proposals, considered...


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pp. 287-307

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9. Evangelium Vitae

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pp. 289-316

No magisterial text issued prior to 1995 by or with the approval of the Holy See can be cited as teaching that legislators can vote for restrictive abortion legislation. On this point there seems to be unanimous agreement. The correctness or otherwise of the widespread belief that the Holy See now teaches that...

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10. An Overview and Conclusion

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pp. 317-333

If a society is unwilling to recognize the right to life of all the unborn and to prohibit all abortions, it may nevertheless be willing to prohibit some abortions—in particular, late abortions and those undertaken for what some regard as insufficiently serious reasons. As Chapter 1 described, unborn children...


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pp. 334-353

A. The UK Abortion Law Prior to the Abortion Act 1967

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pp. 335-336

B. Abortion Act 1967

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pp. 337-340

C. Abortion (Amendment) Bill (January 1988)

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pp. 341-342

D. Abortion (Amendment) Bill (May 1988)

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pp. 343-344

E. Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990

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pp. 345-346


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pp. 347-358


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pp. 359-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780813216096
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813214061

Page Count: 382
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1st ed.

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Abortion -- Law and legislation -- Great Britain.
  • Abortion -- Moral and ethical aspects -- Great Britain.
  • Abortion -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church.
  • Pro-life movement -- Great Britain.
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