Works about or Related to Abortion    

By early in the 1960s, Grisez was regularly teaching courses on ethics to Georgetown undergraduates, who were intensely interested in current arguments about abortion and war. His work on contraception involved some study of abortion, and his participation in interdisciplinary workshops on war organized by members of Georgetown’s Department of Government led him to study nuclear deterrence. By 1966, he had gathered extensive bibliographies on both abortion and nuclear deterrence, with a view to doing a book on one or the other.

In the fall of that year, he decided to work first on abortion. He thought doing so might help some who had unintentially begotten new individuals to choose to sustain their lives, might help some legislators and judges to limit the legalization of abortion, and in any case would save some babies. He therefore outlined the book on abortion which he completed in 1969 and published in 1970. In September 1966, he began researching chapter one, though other responsibilities prevented him from accomplishing much except during vacations. Living near Washington, D.C., however, his research was facilitated by excellent libraries.

The National Library of Medicine was open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5. During the summer of 1967, Grisez waited at the door nearly every morning and worked eight hours without a break. Impressed by his diligence, the librarians were especially helpful and eventually allowed him to search for items he needed in the stacks that were not usually open to users. At home in the evenings and on weekends, he expanded his notes into a draft. Similarly, he learned to use law libraries and during subsequent vacation periods worked not only in those at Georgetown's and Catholic University's law schools but in the the law division of the Library of Congress, where he also obtained access to the stacks. Other parts of that library and the main libraries at Georgetown and Catholic University yielded necessary materials, and some items were obtained elsewhere, often but not always by interlibraary loan.

On 29 July 1968, Pope Paul VI published Humanae vitae, and a few days later John C. Ford, S.J., enlisted Grisez to help him draft a pastoral letter for Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, who was confronted both by the pastoral dissent of some priests serving under him and by the theological dissent of some clerical faculty members at Catholic University. The Cardinal put Grisez to work, with much overtime, for several months but also obtained for him a leave-of-absence from Georgetown for the entire 1968–69 academic year. That freed him to complete the abortion book in September 1969.



“Relevant Philosophical Distinctions”    

A conference on abortion, organized by the Cardinal Suenens International Center of the Catholic Louvain University in Belgium, was held on 10–12 May 1968. Grisez decided to attend and gather whatever he could. So, he arranged to contribute this short paper, obtained some funding from Georgetown University, and paid the rest of his expenses with family funds.

Written of course before the conference, the paper does not, strictly speaking, respond to anything others said there. Rather, it implicitly criticizes many arguments, both favoring and opposing the legalization of abortion, with which Grisez was already familiar and regarded as inadequate. Of course, many arguments presented at the conference were not new, and Grisez’s criticism cut against some of them. Since he had not yet drafted his own treatment of the ethics and jurisprudence of abortion when this paper was written, it does not anticipate the argumentation of the book.

Grisez publishes the paper here, copyright © 1968, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the work provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

Open the Paper (PDF)


Letter to John C. Ford, S.J. (17 May 1968)    

Not long before some Catholic moral theologians and others in the early 1960s began challenging the Church’s moral teachings on sex, marriage, and innocent life, Grisez first thought about the status of those teachings and became convinced that the Church had held and handed them on in such a way that she would never contradict them. So, when Catholics began denying them, he expected the Second Vatican Council or the Pope to deal decisively with that denial, and it was with that expectation that Grisez wrote his first book, Contraception and the Natural Law, in the spring of 1964. But the Council ended in December 1965 without addressing the ever-increasing dissent, and the majority of Paul VI’s Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-Rate held in June 1966 that contraception should be approved. Among participants in that Commission’s work who rejected that view was John C. Ford, S.J., in whose service Grisez had assisted. A detailed and documented account of their cooperative effort can be accessed here.

In the spring of 1967, four documents of the Commission were leaked in an effort to put pressure on Pope Paul VI. But more than another year passed, and the increasing dissent had not yet been dealt with. So, as Grisez went to the abortion conference in Louvian, he was anguished by the fact that mother Church was not functioning as he had expected. But on the way home, in London on Monday, 13 May, Grisez had an extraordinary experience which completely replaced that anguish with serene, complete, and lifelong confidence. At the end of a very busy week, on Friday, 17 May, Grisez wrote Ford about that experience.

The dossier mentioned near the beginning of the letter was the bundle of documents and notes, which Grisez copied and sent to Ford, and which provided the basis for the article just below. The fruit of the experience described in the letter is reflected in the remarks at the end of the article.

Grisez publishes the letter here, transcribed without changes other than the correction of typographical errors and the insertion in square brackets of a few explanatory notes. It is copyright © 2013, and Grisez reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the letter provided it is neither altered nor abridged, the source on this website is identified, and this copyright information included.

Open the Letter (PDF)


“Abortion and Catholic Faith”    

Soon after Grisez arrived home from the abortion conference in Louvain, he drafted this report. In it, he mentioned evidence that the conference had received support from secular sources that had promoted contraception and were by then promoting the legalization of abortion, and he reflected that some Catholics addressing the conference were taking the same path on abortion that they had earlier taken on contraception. He sent his draft of the report to several people who had participated in all of the sessions; they, like him, had taken careful notes, and one was a native French-speaker. He asked them to read his account and inform him of any errors they found. With the assurance that they had found none, he submitted the article for publication in the pastoral-theological journal where it appeared.

Grisez submitted it before the publication on 25 July 1968 of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae vitae, but the article appeared after the encyclical. The article is copyright © 1968 by The Catholic University of America Press; all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)

Just before Christmas 1968, Grisez received a letter, dated 15 December, from Msgr. Victor L. Heylen, a Professor at Louvain, upbraiding him for making false statements about several of the presentations including Heylen’s own, and demanding that Grisez retract them and make amends not only for the benefit of those concerned but for the Catholic faith itself. Since Grisez had done his best to write a truthful report of the conference, he could not identify any false statements he had made. So, because the conference had been tape-recorded, he responded, in a letter written Christmas day, by asking Heylen for a copy of the recordings with indications of evidence that showed the errors, and promised to publish the relevant passages and correct any mistakes. No answer to that request ever arrived.


Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments    

In August 1967, Grisez contracted for publication of this book with The World Publishing Company, of which Corpus Books was a division. By September 1969, when he submitted the completed manuscript, Corpus was financially troubled and being cut back. Still, about a year later, the book finally was published, first as a hard cover, then in paperback.

On those books, World Publishing paid only part of the royalties to which it had agreed. Then, when it closed down Corpus Books and remaindered its stock to North Central Book Distributors, Grisez’s book had sold out, and to sweeten the deal, World had about 4,000 additional copies printed, which were sold over several years with no royalties to Grisez. World Publishing also licensed the book to Crowell-Collier, which published it in Toronto and distributed it throughout the English-speaking world, again with no royalties to Grisez. Furthermore, many who used the results of research presented in the book gave no credit to their source. All that was offset for Grisez, however, by a few reports he received of babies saved because someone had read something in his book.

Because Grisez researched and wrote this book during 1966–69, several years before Roe v. Wade, much of its content is out of date. That is true with regard not only to developments in respect to abortion but also to chapter six’s statement of his own moral theory, which he formulated more adequately in The Way of the Lord Jesus and subsequent works. Moreover, many other fine works defending the right to life of unborn human individuals appeared in the years after Roe v. Wade. However, some parts of this book remain relevant and sound, and careful readers may find them useful.

Grisez publishes the work here, copyright © 1970, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. But he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the entire work or part of it provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

Because the PDF file of the whole book is very large, bringing it up will take some time.
Please be patient or open only one part of the book at a time.

Open the Whole Book (PDF)

Open the Front Matter (PDF)

Open Chapter 1: How Life Begins (PDF)

Open Chapter 2: A Sociological View (PDF)

Open Chapter 3: A Medical View (PDF)

Open Chapter 4: Religious Views of Abortion (PDF)

Open Chapter 5: The State of the Legal Question (PDF)

Open Chapter 6: Ethical Arguments (PDF)

Open Chapter 7: Toward a Sound Public Policy (PDF)

Open the Notes (PDF)

Open the Index (PDF)


“Toward a Consistent Natural-Law Ethics of Killing”    

After completing work on the book, Abortion, in September 1969, Grisez developed and restated some parts of his treatment in that work for publication as this article. In it, he attempted to distinguish between what is intended and what is accepted as a side effect by someone making a choice, and in doing so he mistakenly appealed to the indivisibility of the performance that carries out the choice. Thus, his analysis of action in this article was confused. He clarified that matter in later works, beginning with his 1977 essay: “Suicide and Euthanasia,” and definitively in the coauthored 2001 essay: “‘Direct’ and ‘Indirect’: A Reply to Critics of Our Action Theory,” with John Finnis and Joseph Boyle. The key to that later development was to regard human action from the perspective of the acting person and to focus on the proposal that the acting person adopts by choice.

Still, other elements of the 1970 article remain interesting, including Grisez’s criticism of Aquinas’s arguments for the acceptability of capital punishment. The article is copyright © University of Notre Dame 1970, all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“The Value of a Life: A Sketch”    

In the spring of 1973, philosophers at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio, initiated an unusual effort to teach philosophy by (1) bringing in truly diverse philosophers to complement themselves in presenting, as briefly and understandably as possible, a range of thinking about the value of life; (2) after the visitors had left, conducting thorough discussions with the students, directed toward formulating relevant and challenging questions for each presenter; (3) gathering those replies together; and (4) conducting further discussions with their students.

Invited to participate, Grisez tried to articulate the grounds of the ethical theory he had by then developed within a broader philosophical context of value theory. In later years, working with Joseph Boyle and John Finnis, Grisez developed the ethical theory in many important respects, but never elsewhere situated its account of basic goods within the context of general value theory. For that reason, this brief sketch sheds important light on his thought.

The article is copyright © 1973 The Cleveland State University; all rights reserved.

Open the Sketch (PDF)


“Unqualified Values and Ethical Decisions”    

This supplement to the preceding sketch includes the questions put to Grisez and his responses to them. They are good questions that go to the center of the theory of ethics he was developing, to his rejection of consequentialism, and to his philosophy of the human person. His responses also illustrate his way of practicing Christian philosophy in a secular context.

The article is copyright © 1973 The Cleveland State University; all rights reserved.

Open the Article (PDF)


“When Do People Begin?”    

Having been elected President of the American Philosophical Association, Joseph Boyle invited Grisez to present a plenary-session paper on a prolife topic at the spring 1989 convention. Grisez chose to revisit the issue, already dealt with at length in his book on abortion: when does a new human individual begin? Not only had fresh philosophical arguments been presented on that issue, but Grisez was no longer entirely satisfied with his earlier treatment. Yet a full-scale treatment was impossible within the limits of a paper. So, Grisez wrote the paper as a plan or outline for the full treatment he could not undertake. The paper was published in the Association’s Proceedings and is copyright © American Catholic Philosophical Association 1989, all rights reserved.

Open the Paper (PDF)

The best realization of the plan set out in this paper is the work of two of Grisez’s colleagues, Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen: Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (New York: Doubleday, 2008).