Lord Devlin philosophy and application of his theory on the issue ‘abortion on demand’

DEBATE: Lord Devlin philosophy and application of his theory on the issue ‘abortion on demand’

Is it morally justifiable to oppose women’s fundamental rights to abortion?

Lord devlin would say, yes, because it would be a threat to the integration of the society. However, he justified the enforcement of morals by asking himself three questions.

Firstly, has society the right to pass judgment at all on matters of morals? In other words, ought there to be a public morality or are morals always a matter for private judgment?

He answered that society has the right to pass judgment on morals, which makes individuals within that society share a common morality. If men and women try to create a society in which there is no fundamental agreement about good and evil, they will fail, if, having based it on common agreement, the agreement goes, the society will disintegrate.

So, it can be said that there will be disintegration if abortion is legalized which does not follow common morality. Therefore, society should justify in taking the same steps to preserve its moral code as it does to preserve its government and other essential institutions.

The second question is if society has the right to pass judgment, has it also the right to use the weapon of the law to enforce it?

His answer is society has the right to use the law to enforce morality in the same way as it uses it to safeguard anything else that is essential to its existence. Furthermore, it is not possible to define a sphere of private morality than it is to define one of private subversive activity.

If abortion is private immorality and not the law’s business, what concern has the law with the homicide or killing of innocent children? Therefore, it is not possible to set theoretical limits to the power of the state to legislate against immorality and likewise there can be no theoretical limits to legislate against abortion or killing innocent child.

The third question asked whether the weapon of the law should be used in all cases or only in some, and, if only in some, what principles should be kept in mind.

Devlin suggests ascertaining the moral judgements of the society from the judgement of the right minded man. He may be thought of as the man in the jury box. His judgement will prevail for the purposes of the law and immorality will be thought of as what every right-minded man considers to be immoral.

He also refers to certain principles toconsider when legalising moral issues.

First, there ought to be a maximum toleration level for individuals consistent with society’s integrity. Secondly, only that which lies beyond the limits of tolerance ought to be punished; these limits will be reached when an activity creates disgust among right-minded persons. The limits of tolerance may shift from generation to generation. Thirdly, the privacy should be respected as much as possible. Fourthly, the law is concerned with a minimum standard of behaviour.

However, by summarizing Devlin’s moral stance it can be said that abortion is morally wrong but it is not clear from his analysis at what point does it become sinful to prevent birth and why? It means that he didn’t clarify the status of the unborn as to when it becomes fully human. He said that British society shared morality is derived from Christianity even if Christian belief is no longer prevalent if a society’s shared morality is weakened, this has a tendency to lead to destruction of the society itself. It seems that he talked only to establish Christian morals. In Christianity neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Christian scriptures address the issue of abortion directly. But the general view is that human life does begin at the moment of conception. In order to understand the fetus status, it is important to discuss the biological facts of fetal development.

The hierarchy of the fetus growth:

First month: the fetus is biologically alive

Pregnancy begins at conception.Furthermore, within one week after conception, implantation occurs the time at which the conceptus ‘nests’ or implants in her mothers uterus.

Second month: brain functions

By the beginning of the second month the unborn child looks distinctly human and the brain starts functioning, which can be detected in the unborn at about 40 to 43 days after conception.The eyes, ears, nose, toes, and fingers make their appearance, the skeleton develops, the heartbeats, and the blood – with its own type flows. However, a vast majority of abortions take place during this time.

Third month: the fetus weight

Although the fetus weighs only one ounce and is comparable in size to a goose egg, the unborn begins to swallow, squint, and swim, grasp with their hands, and move their tongue. They also suck their thumb and organs undergo further development.

Fourth and fifth months:the size of the unborn and viability

The weight of the unborn increases six times to about half their birth weight. Their height is between eight and ten inches long and they can hear their mother’s voice.

In the fifth month of pregnancy the rnboun becomes viable. That is, they now have the ability to live outside her mother’s womb. Some babies have survived as early as twenty weeks.Finally, according to Dr Bernard Nathanson full humanness begins when the conceptus is implanted in its mother’s womb, which occurs within one week after conception.

I will conclude by saying that abortion is a public moral evil, one that the state has the duty to forbid. If the state has the duty to protect born persons from such terrible evils, it has exactly the same duty to protect preborn persons from them.


At the end of our discussion I think we have covered all the relevant areas of the philosophers theories and have appropriately applied all the philosophies on the issue ‘abortion on demand’. After applying all the philosophers view it seems that they were either support or reject legalised abortion.

For example:

Dworkin would most likely approve of Abortion on demand, this is because he proclaims nothing would ever supersede human dignity, and the issue of abortion would undoubtedly give rise to an element of dignity. Albeit, the states concern to preserve human rights and the right to life.

On the other hand

Lord devlin would say that there would be disintegration if abortion is legalised which does not follow common morality.

However, I think today’s message should be women must decide their fate, not the church, not the state, not the medical association. So abortion should be an unconditional demand on the state, the fundamental right of a woman to control her own fertility.

Finally, I would like to thank to my honourable lecturer who organised this topical debate, which helps us to improve our teamwork and presentation skills. Then, I would like to thank to my group who have worked hard to gather information and have shown a great cooperation. Now you have the opportunity to ask questions to our group about this issue.