The Avoidable Moral Dilemma
  • James M. Humber


The recent Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade could hardly be said to have solved the problem of abortion.1 Grave religious and moral issues remain, and until these are settled there will be continued assaults upon the law as promulgated by the Supreme Court. Now I agree with those who hold that the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade gives legal sanction to immoral conduct. At the same time, I would urge those presently engaged in trying to change that law to give up this line of attack. There are two reasons for this. First, at this particular point in time, all avenues for change seem blocked. Given its present constitution, the Supreme Court is not going to modify its ruling; and because the majority of citizens of this country favor abortion in at least some cases,2 movements for constitutional amendment seem unlikely to succeed. Second, even if the law could somehow be changed, it is quite certain that it would be (as it was in the past) virtually ineffectual. As long as people remain convinced that abortion is both moral and beneficial, they will continue to make use of that procedure regardless of legal sanctions. To attack the law is to attack a symptom, not the disease; and if anti-abortionists are to have any hope of eradicating abortion, they must find some way of convincing abortion advocates that this procedure is morally wrong. Now despite the many failures of the past, I think that this can be done. There are several reasons for my optimism here, but primary among them is this: unless I am mistaken, opponents of abortion have been unable to develop convincing arguments, only because they have failed to discern the true nature of their adversaries’ position. Indeed, it is my belief that no party to the dispute has ever seen the abortion controversy for what it is, and that once this is done, a much more persuasive case can be made for the immorality of abortion.


Prima Facie Human Person Newborn Baby Constitutional Amendment Legal Sanction 
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  1. 2.
    Herman Schwartz, “The Parent or the Fetus,” Humanist, Vol. 27 27 (1967), p. 126.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Garrett Hardin, “Abortion—or Compulsory Pregnancy?” Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 30 (May, 1968), pp. 250–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 7.
    Glanville Williams, “The Legalization of Medical Abortion,” The Eugenics Review, Vol. 56 (April, 1964), p. 21.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1 (1971), pp. 47–66.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1 (1971). p. 56.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Baruch Brody has challenged Professor Thomson’s position by pointing out that she fails to distinguish between our duty to save someone’s life, and our duty not to take it (B. Brody, “Thomson on Abortion,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1 (1972), pp. 339–340.) There is some doubt, however, that this distinction is ever properly made in morals (See R.B. Brandt, “The Morality of Abortion,” p. 157, inAbortion: Pro and Con, ed. by Robert L. Perkins (Cambridge: 1974), pp. 151-169). Brandt’s article is a revision of one of the same title, published in The Monist, Vol. 56 (1972), pp. 504-526. All references in this paper will be to the revised essay.Google Scholar

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© Plenum Press, New York 1976

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  • James M. Humber

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