A Critical Examination of Judith Thomsons Argument for Abortion

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Judith Thomson’s argument through her article, “A Defence of Abortion” is one that adopts the premise that the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception. By doing this, Thomson is distancing her argument from the various theorists who maintain the moral view that it is wrong to kill another human being, such as (Marquis, 1989). This ultimately allows her to assume various hypothetical situations in which the cognitive status of the fetus is otherwise not considered. This is important. It helps the case she develops to detach itself from the focal points considered in the 'common argument', which illustrates that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood and then adulthood is continuous, and to draw a line where abortion is acceptable is futile. Thomson’s argument that contrasts a “right to life” against a “right to decide what happens in and to one’s body" is based on what Finnis describes as “confusing the issue” (Finnis, 1973). Throughout the article, her various thought experiments are presented in order to support and help the reader identify situations in which the permissibility of abortion seems just. This essay will scrutinise the effectiveness of Thomson’s ideas, and whether they have led to a more definable understanding when defending abortion. From the assumed premise that Thomson begins her article with, she develops a juxtaposition between every person's right to life and the mother's right to her own body. The concurrent positions held by the mother and fetus are alluded to in Thomson's first thought experiment which is heavily discussed throughout her argument in defending abortion. The thought experiment in question is of the "famous unconscious violinist". In so many words, it involves a situation in which your circulatory system is unknowingly plugged into the violinist's, in order to keep him from dying. Also, unplugging means death to the violinist, and nine months is the amount of time the violinist needs to recover (Thomson, 1971). Fundamentally, this hypothetical situation puts some aspects of pregnancy into perspective. By allowing the reader to involve themselves in this circumstance, she in turn illustrates her point on the gravity and in some ways outrageousness of the position the person is placed in through effective rhetorical questions. These questions include: "Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?"; "What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still?". She goes on to suggest that the situation the person is placed in is undeniably farcical and that the argument mentioned previously, that every person has a right to life (a fetus being a person in this example), cannot be seriously considered plausible if this situation is taken into account. I believe with this particular experiment in mind, that Thomson's intention is to find fault with the 'common argument'. As mentioned in her article, she infers that if placed under the conditions of this thought experiment, everyone has a choice in whether to consent to this situation. Or in other words, she concludes that we have no moral obligation to stay connected to the violinist. When this hypothetical is considered with pregnancy in mind, it is clear that abortion oppositionists should eliminate this scenario from their argument, as enough evidence has been provided when defending abortion in this scenario. Even Marquis who maintains that it is “prima facie seriously wrong to kill another human being” including a fetus, suggests that abortion in some instances is reasonable (Marquis, 1989). In my opinion, this particular thought experiment is a very effective analogy to a pregnant woman who is a victim of rape. Furthermore, with regard to allowing abortion on the grounds of pregnancy due to rape, I believe this thought experiment provides substantial and successful evidence for the permissibility of abortion in these cases. However, as this analogy only covers...
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