The Catholic University of America Press

Changing Unjust Laws Justly

Pro-Life Solidarity with "the Last and Least"

Colin Harte

Cloth 978-0-8132-1406-1 $74.95
June 2005 In Print Add to Cart
E-Book 978-0-8132-1609-6 $74.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

What can pro-life lawmakers rightly do when it is not possible to overturn laws permitting abortion? For many, the obvious answer is to restrict abortion as much as possible. Having previously accepted this answer, Colin Harte now challenges it. He describes the practical realities of campaigning to restrict abortion and explores various jurisprudential, legislative, and ethical aspects of the question. His over-riding concern is that attempts to restrict abortion typically exclude those unborn children who can be regarded as "the last and least"--notably those who are disabled or conceived after rape--and he argues that such exclusions violate the principle of solidarity.

When John Paul II addressed the problem caused by the existence of a pro-abortion law, he taught that pro-life legislators "could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law" (Evangelium vitae, n. 73). Harte argues that the pope is necessarily referring to just proposals aimed at limiting the harm and that unjust or "imperfect" legislation has not been approved. He argues that many interpretations of the pope's teaching are flawed because they do not not distinguish between just and unjust proposals that could limit the harm. The book describes the sorts of just proposals that the author thinks could be rightly supported, and argues that, in spite of good intentions, pro-lifers act unjustly if they support unjust restrictive proposals.

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.


Colin Harte has been involved with the pro-life movement for more than twenty years, particularly working to promote the right to life of the most vulnerable. He is also general secretary of the charity Enable (Working in India), which supports disabled children.


"This is a profound, significant and disturbing book. It is a profound because it deals with a grave subject, abortion law, in a serious and comprehensive way; it is significant because it looks at the whole question from an original angle, that of Christian humanism; and it is disturbing because the questions it raises inevitably challenge the accepted pro-life strategic response in the decades since David Steele's Abortion Act of 1967. . . . [A] vital contribution to pro-life literature. It should be read by everyone who is sympathetic to the pro-life cause, Christian or otherwise."--Francis Phillips,

"In his remarkable book, Colin Harte considers the question of supporting laws to restrict abortion. Though restrictive abortion laws may save lives, Harte argues that they are unjust and a violation of solidarity with the most vulnerable of the unborn. His arguments merit serious consideration."--Tadeusz Styczen, S.D.S., John Paul II Institute, Catholic University of Lublin, Poland

"Changing Unjust Laws Justly is an important book that challenges some of the central policy positions of the pro-life movement. It is nothing less than a wake-up call to those academics and activists who have forgotten that the intrinsic justice of a law is at the heart of one's proper attitude to it. Harte is meticulous in his research and painstaking in his argument. It is to be hoped that his book provokes a long-overdue reassessment of where the pro-life movement currently stands and of the direction in which it should be heading."--David S. Oderberg, University of Reading, England

"Harte's argument breaks open the underlying philosophical issues of voting for imperfect legislation like no treatment in favor of so voting could ever do. For this reason, even if one cannot always go along with his interpretation of Church teaching or his understanding of the nature of such voting, his book is well worth reading and pondering."--Kevin L. Flannery, S.J., Gregorian University, Rome

"Harte's provocative book forcefully tackles one of the key issues facing the pro-life movement. His book is a sophisticated rejection of the incremental approach to achieving full legal protection for the unborn. The book is informed by his many years of thinking and writing about the underlying moral issues and by his many years of dedicated work on the front-lines of pro-life activism. Even those who disagree with Harte's conclusions will profit from engaging his arguments."--Richard S. Myers, Ave Maria School of Law, Michigan

"Harte has set himself against the prevailing view among pro-life advocates regarding support for 'imperfect' abortion legislation. If one is to judge an argument by its consistency and cogency, and not by the number of its exponents, one must admit that Harte has made a strong case. People throughout the pro-life spectrum should pay attention to this book."--Jaroslaw Merecki, S.D.S., Lateran University, Rome

"[A] closely and densely argued book." -- Heythrop Journal

Product Details

Pages:xvi, 363 pages

Dimensions:6x9 inches


CIP Information: 2004008037/ KD3340.H37 2004/ 342.4108'4--dc22


1. Abortion--law and legislation--Great Britain

2. Abortion--Moral and ethical aspects--Great Britain

3. Abortion--Religious aspects--Catholic Church

4. Pro-life movement--Great Britain