Judith Jarvis Thomson: a Defense of Abortion

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Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion – CRITICAL EXPOSITION

The goal of Judith Jarvis Thomson in her defense of abortion is to sway the ideas of those who are against abortion by challenging the arguments they give for thinking so. She begins by stating a premise. “For the sake of the argument” a human embryo is a person. This premise is one of the arguments most opponents of abortion use, but as she points out, isn’t much of an argument at all. These people spend a lot of their time dwelling on the fact that the fetus is a person and hardly any time explaining how the fetus being a person has anything to with abortion being impermissible. In the same breath, she states that those who agree with abortion spend a lot of their time saying the fetus is in fact not a person. Either way, no argument is really formed. No reasons are given. For sake of challenging an actual argument, she is disregarding this issue. With this premise out of the way, she addresses the basic argument the pro-choice campaign believes. “Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.” The remainder of her paper is a series of analogies meant to challenge the basic argument mention above. When looking at the analogies separately, they are in no way related to the abortion topic, but the conclusions drawn from each can be applied. Because these examples aren’t directly related to the debate, our emotions won’t necessarily be involved and we can clearly think about what is the “right” thing to do for each specific scenario. To begin, we’re given the following analogy. You have been kidnapped. When you wake up, you find yourself connected to a famous violinist who needs your kidney. You are the only one who can save him, and in order to do so you must stay connected to him for 9 months. Most would agree “unplugging” yourself from this dying violinist would be wrong, but you didn’t consent to helping this man so you don’t necessarily hold an obligation to save him. This analogy is laid in comparison to pregnancy due to rape with the intention to challenge the basic argument opponents of abortion hold. The woman doesn’t ask to be raped, and therefore doesn’t ask for the child. There is no consent involved whatsoever. Therefore, the baby’s right to life isn’t enough to obligate the mother to save it. The conclusion drawn from this analogy is that the violinist’s right to life does not give the violinist a right to your body; similarly, the baby’s right to the life doesn’t give the baby a right to your body. This proves the basic argument wrong because the child’s right to life doesn’t outweigh the mother’s.

The next analogy is given to back up a situation where there is a risk on the mother’s life if she is to carry the baby to term. This analogy is challenging the more extreme view held by those in opposition to abortion. This view finds abortion “impermissible even to save the mother’s life.” Imagine a woman has become pregnant and in the same day learns of a newly developed heart disease that will kill her if she carries her baby to term. The baby has a right to life, but so does the woman. Thomson brings up the argument most familiar. “Performing the abortion would be directly killing the child, whereas doing nothing would not be killing the mother, but letting her die.” The conclusion that is drawn from this scenario is that your own right to life gives you the moral right to “unplug” yourself if your life is threatened. Equally, if there is a risk of the mother dying, she has a right to end the pregnancy in order to save herself. It cannot be considered murder to kill someone in order to save...
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